Pedro Almodóvar is the most globally known Spanish filmmaker. He has won two Academy Awards for his work, and almost every time a new project of his is announced, there is bound to be excitement in film circles globally. His movies tend to be recognizable by their recurring themes, stunning use of color, and the director’s cast of frequent collaborators like Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz. What strikes me the most about his movies, though, is that it feels like before they’re a movie — they’re stories.
Stories, Stories, and More Stories
When I was a kid, I was a total bookworm. I was always the kid getting the most stars in our elementary school’s “readers list” and in the third grade, when asked to give a presentation on anything I wanted, I picked Jules Verne — my favorite writer at the time. Most children’s books tend to be very plot-oriented. You can rarely write a story about the deep thoughts and feelings of a character without much narrative, and still have 8-year-olds enjoy it. So in my favorite books, there would always be some exciting, immersive plot going on: Magic, giants, princesses, knights, animals, crazy families, kids, detectives, even detective-kids! The adventure would simply never stop, and that’s what I loved so much.
Nonetheless, the aesthetics and ambiance are always beautiful and experimental, but the same can’t be said for the storytelling
I, unfortunately, don’t read nearly as much as I used to, mostly thanks to my ADHD and the unhealthy amount of time I spend on the internet, but I have found myself growing closer to cinema. I make an effort to follow festival films and awards during the year and also try to explore world cinema whenever I can. However, many movies that seem to be popular in film critic circles and the “film-buff” communities tend to have a very different approach to storytelling from the children’s books that I used to enjoy. They can be slow-paced with a lot of character exploration and introspection, lots of silences, and uneventful conversations. It is not uncommon to check out a movie after seeing ten different critics praise it, and in the end think: “Well, nothing really happened.” Nonetheless, the aesthetics and ambiance are always beautiful and experimental, but the same can’t be said for the storytelling. Of course, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing — these can make for extremely interesting, eye-opening, touching, and relatable stories. But for me, it just doesn’t spark the same hunger to consume more as a well-made, plot-driven story would.
The Magic of Almodóvar
Almodóvar does exactly the opposite. His movies, or at least what I’ve seen of them so far, don’t have a single dull moment in them. They’re absurd, melodramatic (some describe it as “reminiscent of the Español telenovela”), funny at times, touching at others. His films are also always beautiful to look at. The colors are vibrant and meaningful (no one does red on the big screen like Almodóvar), and the landscapes suck you right in. The characters usually lead out-of-the-ordinary lives, but they feel incredibly real at the same time. The themes are always interesting (death, betrayal, gay and transgender life, and cinema, to name a few) and often tell stories of societal taboos and marginalized groups.
There’s passionate love and sex, cold-blooded murder, family trees that get more confusing with every scene, and plot twists that will leave your mouth hanging open
One of his most famous works, “All About My Mother”, touches upon single motherhood, the transgender experience (you will definitely remember Agrado’s monologue after you’ve seen the movie), and religious oppression. The critically acclaimed “Volver”, is a ghost story that is filled with strong female characters and reminds the audience, in the most intimate way, of the magic of family. “Bad Education,” “Broken Embraces,” and “Pain and Glory” change the narrative focus from the strong Almodóvar women to the broken filmmaker men, who illustrate Almodóvar’s love for cinema. No matter what the movie is about or what the characters look like though, the drama simply never stops. There’s passionate love and sex, cold-blooded murder, family trees that get more confusing with every scene, and plot twists that will leave your mouth hanging open.
The Perfect Balance
I won’t go into the details of why I love specific movies of his so much, but overall, all of them remind me of what I’ve always loved so much about consuming fiction, ever since I was a little kid with her head in a book: fun, gripping stories. Almodóvar manages to keep storytelling alive in his movies without having to compromise cinematic quality and I think that’s really important. Obviously, a movie doesn’t have to win any awards or be praised by critics for you to enjoy it. Art is art regardless. Still, it makes me happy to know that, amid all the “art movies” that I sometimes have to force myself to finish, there’s always something to turn back to that won’t bore me for a single second and still has critics singing their praises!
No matter what he does, Almodóvar manages to find the perfect balance between entertaining, twisty drama, and touching, meaningful cinema — and I love him for it.
Cover: T Wei
Edited By: Rita Alves