Almodóvar, Almodóvar, Almodóvar. Who hasn’t heard this name hundred of times in recent weeks? It doesn’t matter if you live in Paris or New York, if you tune into RAI or the BBC. He’s everywhere and you can’t avoid him. The Golden Globes (January 15) and the Oscars (February 25) are upon us and the Spanish filmmaker is doing his best to win. Like any other Hollywood director would, such as Scorsese or Spielberg. And it is because Pedro Almodóvar, born in Castilla La Mancha, Spain, in 1951, is already playing in the big league, above other European directors. He has captivated the public and Volver is a hit in the States. Incredible, yet true.
What is strangest of all (and this is Hollywood we are talking about), is that this phenomenon all started off with a film starring transvestites and prostitutes: the wonderful melodrama ‘All About My Mother' (‘Todo sobre mi madre’, 1999). That film, which perfectly summed up Almodóvar’s world in a single story, changed everything. It won prizes at Cannes, at the Spanish Goya Awards, the Golden Globes and the Oscars. From then on, nothing would be the same again. Not even Almodóvar’s own work. His next, ‘Talk to Her' (‘Hable con ella’, 2001) would signal a risky and ambitious step towards freer, more exciting pastures. Without looking back, and revisiting recurring themes. It received critical acclaim and won an award normally beyond the grasp of a non-English language work, that of best original script. Following a lack of success, both critically, and in the eyes of the public, with ‘Bad Education' (‘La mala educación’, 2004), Volver has now arrived. A film which, thanks to its reaction, has once more put Almodóvar above the rest of his contemporaries.
We are not worthy?
Is his latest work really that great? To what extent is his success justified? If we took note of the prizes and the opinion of American critics, we’d think that Almodóvar is the greatest European filmmaker, and the most successful in portraying the reality of Spanish life. But these statements aren’t exactly correct. It is true that Almodóvar’s films (in particular those before ‘All About My Mother’) have shown, with a certain irony and skill, both the traditional and the vulgar side of Spain. But the Spanish director doesn’t look for realism, and it would be wrong to think all Spaniards are like those in his films. If, on the other hand, we refer to his talent, few would deny that Almodóvar is a great director. Thanks to his own unique world and an increasingly refined technical expertise, he has achieved a noticeable status in the film industry. But to affirm that he is the best filmmaker in Europe is a daring feat.
Currently, there are 20 or so directors on a level peg, or even above him, from the Austrian Michael Haneke (‘The Piano Teacher', 2001) to Belgians Jean Pierre and Luc Dardenne (‘L’Enfant’, 2005). Let alone the true classics who still command importance today; Jean Luc Godard or Manoel de Oliveira.
Volver, the favourite
And so, what makes Almodóvar different to the rest? Why is this director more notorious than his contemporaries? The likely response is to be found in the melodramatic nature of his films. Tragic situations are always accompanied by irony, and the music and photography provide a certain ambiance that draws the public in. That and the fact that he has been supported by Hollywood, and by French critics. Thanks to these advantages, Volver goes to the Golden Globes as favourite. But you never know. The standard of films in the Best Foreign Language category is very high thanks to ‘Letters From Iwo Jima’, and ‘Apocalypto’, two North American productions in Japanese and Mayan respectively, directed by two of the great heavyweights Clint Eastwood and Mel Gibson. The other two nominations, less likely winners, are ‘The Lives of Others' from the still unknown Florian Henckel-Donnersmarck, and the noteworthy ‘Pan’s Labyrinth' from the Mexican Guillermo del Toro. Could it be that Hollywood shuns Almodóvar’s charm? We’ll find out shortly.
Golden Globe nominations:
Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture (Drama): Penélope Cruz
Best Foreign Language Film: Volver