Pedro Amodóvar Caballero, one of Spain’s most prolific film directors, producers and screenwriters has managed to yield – over his tremendous forty-year career – strikingly consistent critical and commercial success, as well as an intensely dedicated cult-following that only a figure of his directorial prowess and catalogue of cinematic excellence could maintain. His films have come to be represented by a recurring prodigious cast of on-screen heroines – from Carmen Maura, to Rossy De Palma, Maria Paredes and Penelope Cruz – the latter being the star of Almodóvar’s most commercial successes and the public face of his subversive and aesthetically poignant works, captivatingly manifesting the emotional cartwheeling, psychological suspense and moral transgression that has come to personify his films.
Amodóvar gained international recognition for his breakthrough film Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988), a dark drama teeming with the hysteria and delirium of a frenzied woman, Pepa Marcos (Carmen Maura), who is suddenly abandoned by her married boyfriend Ivan (Fernando Guillén) and desperately searches for him over two days, an experience which prompts an internal awakening as she realises her true feelings. Amodóvar subsequently produced a number of eclectic successes, from the sombre romantic comedy Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down (1990) about a recently discharged psychiatric patient who kidnaps an actress with whom he is enamoured, to the hysterically emotional melodrama High Heels (1991), following a narcissistic songstress’ dysfunctional relationship with the grown daughter she abandoned and the electrifyingly raw romantic thriller Live Flesh (1997), revolving around an ex-con who becomes entangled in a precarious conflict between his former lover and her boyfriend.
Amodóvar’s All About My Mother (1999), a sexually transgressive and brutally dark drama originating from his earlier film Flower of My Secret (1995), following a budding young writer eager to discover the identity of his father deliberately concealed by his mother, garnered Amodóvar an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. His equally melancholic psychological contortion Talk to Her (2002), a spectacular critical and commercial success dealing with the loneliness and intimacy of two men who form an unlikely bond while both taking care of women who are in comas, is widely regarded as one of the best films of the 2000s, winning Amodóvar a BAFTA for Best Film Not in the English, an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film.
One of the distinguishing factors in Amodóvar films is his repeated use of the same cast of actors, including Julieta Serrano, Marisa Paredes, Cecilia Roth and most notably Penelope Cruz, serving to foster a sense of intimacy, cohesiveness and progression in his films, a fact which is epitomized by the especially compelling collaboration between Amodóvar and Cruz. Cursorily, their relationship appears to based on the clinically symbiotic dyad by which Amodóvar has transformed Cruz into an on-screen icon and Cruz has garnered Amodóvar commercial recognition and box office success. However, their coupling is significantly deeper than that, as Amodóvar has been a pivotal presence in Cruz’s life even prior their first encounter, describing obsessively watching Almodóvar’s films while growing up and delineating her experience watching Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down at the age of fourteen, as a decisive point in her life in terms of her future career choice. “I went into the city to see that movie and that was the day that changed a lot of things for me,” she reminisces. “In terms of making the decision that day to become an actress.”
Throughout the span of their relationship Cruz positions Amodóvar as one of the most important male figures in her life, a partnership made all the more intimate by the fact that they both grew up completely removed from the world of film. Cruz spent the majority of her formative years in her mother’s beauty salon listening to the lively chatter and watching Almodóvar’s films on repeat, while Amodóvar himself grew up in an environment far from the world of cinema, raised in a peasant family with a father who could barely read or write and sent to a Catholic boarding school by the age of seventeen. Accordingly, it has been widely and justifiably speculated that Amodóvar’s personal proximity to the repression and dearth of creative and artistic prospects embodied by Franco’s severe regime, is what propelled him to the forefront of La Movida Madrileña, the cultural renaissance of political and sexual liberation sparked by the death of the Spanish dictator, following his three-decade long reign. During that period, Amodóvar gained significant esteem through his sexually subversive, shockingly anarchical and fearlessly progressive films that came to represent everything that Franco’s rule stood against.
His latest releases do not fail to match the pioneering reputation of his previous films, including the psychological thriller The Skin I Live In (2011), based on Thierry Jonquet’s novel Mygale (Tarantula), which revolves around a plastic surgeon (Antonio Banderas) who obsessively endeavours to create skin that can withstand burns, a film that notably signalled Amodóvar’s much anticipated reunion with Banderas, twenty-two years after their initial collaboration in Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down. Amodóvar’s most recent work, his twentieth feature film, also signals his return to psychological dramas and – in Amodóvar’s own words – to the “cinema of women.” His fifth film to compete for the Palm d’Or at Cannes, the agonizingly mournful Julieta (2016), revolves around the eponymous protagonist (Emma Suárez), who experiences the sudden loss of her husband Xoan (Daniel Grao), as well as her daughter Antía (Blana Parés) who decides to run away from their home without any explanation, provoking Julieta to embark on a desperate search to find her, a journey that results in significant personal revelations.
Amodóvar’s impressive canon of works – from the thrillingly dark Live Flesh (1997), to the harrowingly passionate Broken Embraces (2009) and the nimbly whimsical I’m So Excited (2013) – are all coloured with his distinctive character-driven, delicately psychological narratives presented on a backdrop of hysterically emotional melodrama, brazenly irreverent humour and intensely chromatic visuals that all heighten his piercingly evocative and singularly unique explorations of passion, desire, family and personal identity.