Cannes Film Festival is about to begin, introducing the impressive selection of films competing in different categories with everyone’s attention especially directed towards the potential Palme d’Or and Grand Prix winners. What makes the 70th edition of the most acclaimed European film festival even more exciting is that Oscar-winning director Pedro Almodóvar has been named president of the jury, becoming the first Spaniard to be given that honor. The prolific director has had six of his films shown at Cannes throughout the last two decades, winning the best director prize for All About My Mother (1999) and best screenplay for Volver (2006).
Even though his films are exclusively in Spanish, that didn’t stop them from getting worldwide recognition from both critics and the audience. What is so appealing and unique about Almodóvar’s films that makes everyone who has seen at least one always come back for more? I’ll try to break down the director’s trademark characteristics in 5 key points.
Every genre is his genre
The problem is that I work in more than one genre. It’s impossible for me to aim for a single one because, for me, comedy is mixed with tragedy. That’s very Spanish, the way in which comedy and tragedy are inextricable from each other.
Transferring his eclectic taste into movies turned out to be a big creative success. There are no boundaries in Almodóvar’s stories, the viewer is often surprised by the way in which the story is developing. Also, his films are a great example of how the art of movie making is all about freedom of expression and having fun while creating the amusing plots and characters. This blend of genres is evident in every period of Almodóvar ‘s career- the early love stories mixed with provocative eroticism and political statements, to his newer films that contain mystery, thriller, black comedy and horror elements. No one incorporates romance and suspense as skillfully as Almodóvar resulting in emotional romantic thrillers like Broken Embraces or mystery melodrama Volver.
Memorable female characters
I feel that I can tell a richer and more entertaining story with women.
It’s not jut that he puts women in the spotlight as main protagonists, he makes them believable and goes well beneath the superficial explanations of what drives a character to act the way she does. Penélope Cruz, one of Almodóvar’s favorite actresses praised him as someone who perfectly understands the female universe and makes them feel protected so that is why she enjoys collaborating with him. The key of this capability stems from director’s childhood experiences, he explained many times that he grew up surrounded by powerful, strong women.
During the promotion of his latest feature Julieta, the Spanish filmmaker criticized Hollywood for sexism and not creating enough complex roles for women of all ages. On the other hand, some of his critics say he focuses on women too much, while his heterosexual male characters seem questionable and incomplete.
Almodóvar’s filmmaking style may not be everyone’s ‘cup of tea’, but no one can deny that he has an amazing sense for details and using colors as an important addition to storytelling. Quirky characters are not based solely on their dialogues and expression, the visual representation means a lot in how the viewers interpret their actions. The first example I think of is Lucia from black comedy Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown whose mental instability was emphasized by over the top make up and costumes, turning her into hilarious, almost grotesque character.
Almodóvar has never been afraid of using ‘too much’ color, he openly flirts with elements of kitsch evoking traditional Spanish culture, but in a modern, progressive environment. Through years of making movies he learned how to control those exaggerated visuals in order to improve the film’s plot, but has continue to employ the bright colors, no matter if it’s the clothes, make up, lightning, a chair, a telephone, etc. The trademark of the majority of his work is the use of red which is directly connected to everything is so typically Spanish, but also draws attention to specific details, creating a tense atmosphere, and simply works out so well in front of the camera. One of Almodóvar’s most successful international features Everything about my Mother is the best illustration of the power of red. It represents strong, bold women and their life stories through dealing with broken relationships, love, motherhood, friendship, loss, etc.
Breaking the taboos
As much as he is not scared of colors, the Spanish filmmaker also doesn’t stray away from the unusual and hidden parts of human nature. A part from that, he creates space for characters who were in most cases pushed away from the mainstream – the homosexuals, transsexuals, transvestites. Ever since his debut 1980 film Pepi, Luci, and Bom Almodóvar has been promoting artistic, individual and sexual freedom, questioning the social conventions and tackling stereotypes. It is impossible to forget elements like Gael Garcia Bernal’s transgender character Zahara and dealing with sexual abuse in Bad Education, the deconstruction of identity in All about My Mother, challenging mother stereotypes in Volver, getting involved with the creepyness and obsessions in The Skin I live in, or experiencing painful feelings of guilt in Julieta.
Another important element is humor that is born out of unexpected, absurd, generally considered tragic situations showing the importance of context, for example the rape scene in Kika, or suicide attempt in High Heels. Despite of these chaotic events, the viewer continues to form emotional bonds and empathy towards the fabulously eccentric characters and that is what makes Almodóvar ‘s work authentic.
The choice of music
It’s no secret that films in general wouldn’t be nearly as exciting and touching if they weren’t accompanied by music, so it’s no surprise that Almodóvar doesn’t leave anything to chance in this department. He carefully chooses songs by his own preferences and is often led not by the artistic quality of music, but its references and emotional value. Original soundtracks for his movies have become hits of their own thanks to the collaboration with talented composer Alberto Iglesias.
Some of Almodóvar’s films are so strongly connected to their soundtrack that after watching them, we automatically connect actors and characters with a certain song proving music is inseparable from narration. When I think of the closing scenes of Talk to Her, I immediately hear the music, the dancing couples gliding through the stage appear afterwards. The most recognizable scenes have become so popular precisely for their musical intervals, like the incredible tunnel scene from All about My Mother which stays with you long after you’ve seen the film or Penélope Cruz owning that melancholic musical scene in Volver. For me, the most rememberable due to not only music, but costumes and incredible acting abilities is Gael Garcia Bernal’s performance of Quizas in Bad Education.
Originally posted on Creators.co