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The Instant Expert's Guide to Pedro Almodóvar

All mentioned films in article
Not released

As Parallel Mothers reaches UK screens, Cinema Paradiso celebrates the peerless achievement of its Spanish director, Pedro Almodóvar. This is the 23rd feature in a career that has spanned six decades and helped change the nature of not just Spanish cinema, but also the social, political and moral attitudes of the entire country.

Pedro Almodóvar claims his films fall into three categories. The first saw him take Spanish cinema by storm, as he produced a series of risqué romps that he avers were 'full of humour and nonsense'. In the late 1990s, he embarked upon a sequence of moody melodramas that revealed his many Hollywood influences. More recently, however, his work has centred on 'pain', as he reflects upon the past and present with a concerned eye on the future.

A still from Parallel Mothers (2021)
A still from Parallel Mothers (2021)

The term 'Almodóvarian' has been coined to reflect the blend of kitsch and culture that characterises his meticulously made features. But there's always an added bonus in an Almodóvar film, as he dots his screenplays and visuals with references to the masterworks of world cinema. 'Cinema is always present in my films,' he told one interviewer, while explaining how he absorbs everything he sees. 'When I insert an extract from a film, it isn't a homage but outright theft.' He even borrows from his own canon, making him the master of self-reference.

With over 10,000 titles in its catalogue, Cinema Paradiso is the ideal place to benefit from an Almodóvarian cine-education crash course. We may not have anything by Edgar Neville (the finest Spanish director of the 1940s) or the postwar pair of Luis García Berlanga and Juan Antonio Bardem (ask the UK's DVD labels why you're missing out). But we have plenty of exceptional features by Almodóvar's compatriots, Luis Buñuel and Fernando Fernán Gómez, as well as such other role models as Fritz Lang, Alfred Hitchcock, George Cukor, Douglas Sirk, Billy Wilder, Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Andy Warhol, and John Waters. Just tap their names into the Cinema Paradiso searchline and start ordering!

Man of La Mancha

Pedro Mercedes Almodóvar Caballero was born on 25 September 1949 in Calzada de Calatrava, a small rural town in Ciudad Real. Like Don Quixote before him, he hails from the province of La Mancha and has spent much of his career tilting at establishment windmills. His father, Antonio, had fought with a Republican band during the Spanish Civil War. But even though he started dating Francisca Caballero when they were 14 years old, they were made to wait until they were 30 by their strict parents before they were allowed to marry.

Along with older sisters, Antonia and María Jesús, and younger brother, Agustín, Pedro was largely raised by his mother, as Antonio ran a wine business and was often crossing the Sierra Morena mountains by mule to deliver his wares to towns in Andalucía. Such was the influence of strong women on Pedro's childhood that he remains mostly drawn to female characters in his films. As he revealed in one interview: 'The woman represented everything to me, the man was absent and represented authority. I never identified with the male figure: maternity inspires me more than paternity.'

At the age of eight, Pedro was sent to a Roman Catholic boarding school in the city of Cáceres in the western enclave of Extremadura. His parents hoped he would become a priest. But, while he liked the music and the spectacle of the services, Pedro loathed the discipline imposed by the clergy and abandoned the church a year after he had given God an ultimatum to manifest Himself.

In 1958, the rest of the family moved to Madrigalejo to be closer to Pedro. Antonio opened a petrol station, while Francisca ran a bodega, where she wrote letters for her illiterate neighbours, in the manner of Fernanda Montenegra's widow in Brazilian Walter Salles's Oscar-nominated drama, Central Station (1998).

A still from The Night (1961)
A still from The Night (1961)

It was around this time that Pedro discovered cinema. More to the point, he became obsessed with cromos, the glamorous movie star cards given away with packets of Matías López chocolates. He and Agustín used to go to shows in Calzada and Madrigalejo, where audience members were expected to bring their own chairs. Cinema Paradiso users can get an idea of the scene from Victor Erice's The Spirit of the Beehive (1973). It was here that the future film-makers saw such landmark pictures as Buñuel's Los Olvidado (1950), Bergman's The Virgin Spring (1960), Michelangelo Antonioni's La Notte (1961), and Orson Welles's Chimes At Midnight (1965). No wonder Almodóvar later claimed, 'Cinema became my real education, much more than the one I received from the priest.'

La Movida Loca

At the age of 17, Almodóvar informed his parents that he wanted to leave school and move to Madrid to make films. His father threatened to call out the National Guard, but Almodóvar set out for the capital with a mane of long hair and a Mexican moustache. Over the next couple of years, he lived a hippy lifestyle and enjoyed spells in Ibiza and London before returning to Spain to undertake his compulsory military service.

Realising that he needed a steady job in order to fund his film-making ambitions, Almodóvar worked as a movie extra, manned a stall at the El Rastro flea market, and even tried his hand at DJing at a barra americana. In 1969, however, he became a clerk at the state communications company, Telefónica, with responsibility for broken telephones. He would remain with here for 12 years, during which time he taught himself to make films, as Spanish dictator, Francisco Franco, had closed the National School of Cinema because he considered it to be a nest of Communists.

Franco had been in power since the end of the Civil War in 1939. However, he announced in 1969 that Spain would return to democracy after his death under Prince Juan Carlos, who would rule as a constitutional monarch. Although the country's totalitarian institutions remained in place, a relaxation of attitudes started to be felt almost immediately in academic and artistic circles. This countercultural impetus took off after Franco died in November 1975 and reached its 'pasota' ('couldn't care less') peak in the Malasaña warehouse district towards the end of the decade in what became known as La Movida Madrileña.

Sensing that change was in the air, Almodóvar bought a Super 8 camera and started making films. He also contributed articles to such mainstream publications as El País, Diario 16 and La Luna, as well as avant-garde titles like Star, El Víbora and Vibraciones. Almodóvar even wrote captions for pornographic photo-novels before he published a collection of stories, The Dream of Reason (1978), and a novella, Fire in the Guts (1981).

Between 1974-78, Almodóvar also produced 13 shorts, which were made at weekends on micro-budgets. He shot in silence and natural light, with friends enacting stories that veered from Biblical parodies like The Fall of Sodom (1975) and Salomé (1978) to saucy comedies like Two Whores, or, A Love Story That Ends in Marriage (1974) and Sex Goes, Sex Comes (1977), in which a lesbian bullies her boyfriend into cross-dressing.

As no cinemas would book the films (which Almodóvar insists are now too fragile to show), Pedro and Agustín screened them in the bars, galleries and nightclubs of Madrid and Barcelona, with Pedro improvising dialogue and providing a commentary on the action (like the benshi narrators in silent era Japan), while Agustín counterpointed the scenes with pre-recorded music.

When not filming, Almodóvar hung out with the members of Los Goliardos, an experimental theatre troupe whose leading lady was Carmen Maura, who would go on to appear in seven of the director's films. In addition to taking a small part in a stage production of Jean-Paul Sartre's Dirty Hands, Almodóvar also joined forces with Fabio McNamara in a parodic glam rock duo who released a single called 'Gran Ganga' in 1983.

In 1978, Maura and fellow actor Félix Rotaeta encouraged Almodóvar to make a feature and raised $8000 to help him complete Folle, folle, fólleme, Tim!, in which Maura also starred. Something of a holy grail title for Almodóvar aficionados, the story (whose expletive-riddled English title we'll leave untranslated) centres on a shop girl who goes blind as her sightless musician boyfriend finds fame. It's unlikely this will ever turn up on disc, but we live in hope, as it proved an important stepping stone in transforming a phone company functionary into the Spanish Andy Warhol.

Cult Icon

A still from Pepi Luci Bom (1980)
A still from Pepi Luci Bom (1980)

It took Almodóvar well over a year to make his second feature, Pepi, Luci, Bom (1980). Shot at weekends, with much of the tiny budget going on feeding the cast and crew, the provocative story of how the free-spirited Pepi (Carmen Maura) persuades punk dominatrix Bom (Alaska) to seduce Luci (Eva Siva), the masochist wife of the policeman who had raped her, was inspired by George Cukor's The Women (1939), which would be remade in Hollywood by Diane English in 2008. However, Almodóvar also gave himself a cameo in an impudent nightclub interlude that grew out of the 'General Erections' comic strip he had created.

Filmed on 16mm and blown up to 35mm, the picture captured the Movida mood and delighted younger audiences with its unpolished technique and scabrous wit. The mainstream reviewers largely disapproved of the explicit humour, while feminist groups accused the director of trivialising rape (a charge that would be repeated with a number of later works). But Almodóvar relished the comparisons with John Waters offerings like Multiple Maniacs (1970) and Female Trouble (1974).

Having made a statement of intent, Almodóvar finally quit the day job to embark upon Labyrinth of Passion (1982). Once again reflecting the time in which it was made, the action touches upon post-Francoist politics, sexual identity and the AIDS catastrophe in charting the unlikely liaison between nymphomaniac pop star, Sexila (Cecilia Roth), and gay Middle Eastern prince, Riza of Tiran (Imanol Arias). With Antonio Banderas appearing in his first Almodóvar picture as a terrorist, this celebration of freedom became a cult hit and remains among the director's personal favourites because it's so full of quirky secondary characters.

Although Almodóvar has always jealously guarded his creative freedom, Dark Habits (1983) was commissioned and funded by multi-millionaire Hervé Hachuel as a vehicle for his girlfriend, Cristina Sánchez Pascual. Inspired by Marlene Dietrich's character in Josef von Sternberg's Blonde Venus (1932), Almodóvar concocted a story in which a cabaret singer named Yolanda needs to lay low in a convent after her lover dies of a heroin overdose.

Realising that Pascual had limited gifts, the director turned the emphasis on to the Mother Superior (Julieta Serrano) and her charges, Sister Sewer Rat (Chus Lampreave), Sister Damned (Carmen Maura) and Sister Manure (Marisa Paredes). Premiering at the Venice Film Festival, this savage satire on religion helped reinforce Almodóvar's 'niño terrible' reputation across the continent.

A still from What Have I Done to Deserve This? (1984)
A still from What Have I Done to Deserve This? (1984)

Studded with borrowings from stories by Truman Capote and Roald Dahl, What Have I Done to Deserve This? (1984) also bore similarities to Jean-Luc Godard's Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1966). However, this was also intended as an homage to Italian neo-realism, as the darkly comic narrative charts the efforts of cleaner Gloria (Carmen Maura) to cope with the antics of her taxi driver husband (Ángel de Andrés López), her mother-in-law (Chus Lampreave), and her sexually precocious tweenage son (Miguel Ángel Herranz). With Verónica Forqué shining as Gloria's prostitute confidante, this is another of Almodóvar's 'women's pictures', although its provocative themes would have been unthinkable in pre-Movida cinema.

The picture caught the imagination of producer Andrés Vicente Gómez, who offered to back Almodóvar's next project. Written in conjunction with novelist Jesús Ferrero, Matador (1986) remains one of the director's most contentious outings, as it dwells on murder and sexual violence in following the misadventures of bullfighting student Ángel (Antonio Banderas), who confesses to a series of killings he didn't commit. With Julieta Serrano, Assumpta Serna and Carmen Maura co-starring as Ángel's mother, lawyer and psychiatrist, this bleak melodrama makes reference to films as different as King Vidor's Duel in the Sun (1946) and Mario Bava's Blood and Black Lace (1964).

Having been forced to defend the morality of a film that proved a commercial success, Almodóvar decided to take full control of his situation and set up his own production company, El Deseo, with Agustín. They launched the venture with Law of Desire (1987), which was Almodóvar's first film to focus primarily on gay themes and it was rewarded with the inaugural Teddy Award for LGBTQ+ features at the Berlin Film Festival.

Eusebio Poncela stars as Pablo Quintero, a film director who feels unloved by his partner, Juan (Miguel Molina). So, when politician's son Antonio Benítez (Antonio Banderas) becomes obsessed with him, Pablo throws himself into a dangerous affair. Meanwhile, Pablo's transgender sister, Tina (Carmen Maura), is struggling to cope with the break-up of her relationship with a lesbian model (Bibi Andersson), whose 10 year-old daughter, Ada (Manuela Velasco), she adores.

Almodóvar has claimed that this is 'the key film in my life and career. It deals with my vision of desire, something that's both very hard and very human.' Reinventing the way in which gay and trans characters were depicted on screen, it also transformed Almodóvar's relationship with audiences and critics alike.

Arthouse Darling

An article in the New Yorker cannily noted that Almodóvar's early films 'featured transvestites, transgender people, bondage, rape, and lots of drug use and sex. His stories blurred the lines between gay and straight, coerced and consensual, comedy and melodrama, the funny and the repulsive, high and low art.' He had challenged the cine-establishment at home and abroad and had earned the right to do things his own way. However, his next step saw him charm the arthouse cognoscenti, as Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988) not only landed Almodóvar five Goya Awards in his native Spain, but it also brought him the Best Screenplay prize at the Venice Film Festival and his first Oscar, Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations.

A still from Johnny Guitar (1954)
A still from Johnny Guitar (1954)

His original intention had been to rework Jean Cocteau's 1930 play, The Human Voice. Instead, he tweaked the concept to show how actress Pepa Marcos (Carmen Maura) seeks revenge on her married lover, Ivan (Fernando Guillén), after he dumps her unceremoniously while they are dubbing lines on Nicholas Ray's Johnny Guitar (1954). Things spiral out of control, however, thanks to a batch of gazpacho that Pepa has spiked with sleeping pills.

Boasting superb supporting turns from Julieta Serano, Antonio Banderas and Rossy de Palma, the picture made money across the world. But Almodóvar's mother was unimpressed and suggested that he begged Telefónica for his old job back. Fabled director Billy Wilder also had a word of warning for the Spaniard, as he advised him to steer clear of Hollywood. Hence, Almodóvar turned down the offer to direct Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act (1992). The gig went to Emile Ardolino and, in later years, Almodóvar would also decline Brokeback Mountain (2005) and The Paperboy (2012), which were respectively directed by Ang Lee and Lee Daniels.

Remaining in Spain, Almodóvar collaborated with regular cinematographer José Luis Alcaine for the last time in 14 years on Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990), a Beauty and the Beast story with overtones of the John Fowles novel that had been filmed as The Collector (1965) by William Wyler. Carmen Maura fell out with the auteur over the casting of the picture, but he managed to find a cameo for his mother, in a story that centres on the efforts of a recently released psychiatric patient, Ricky (Antonio Banderas), to kidnap ex-porn star Marina Osorio (Victoria Abril) in the hope that she will fall in love with him.

Critics were divided over the nature of the narrative. But it proved crucial in restructurng the US ratings system, as Miramax sued the Motion Picture Association of America for the awarding of a commercially ruinous X certificate and goaded the MPAA into introducing the NC-17 rating that designates explicit, but non-pornographic content.

Abril returned in High Heels (1991) as a newsreader who is married to Manuel (Féodor Atkine), the former lover of Rebecca's mother, Becky del Páramo (Marisa Paredes), a torch singer who has returned to Spain after 15 years in Mexico. The tensions between mother and daughter stem from an act of selfishness that Almodóvar highlights with a reference to the dynamic between Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullmann in Ingmar Bergman's Autumn Sonata (1978). Yet, while the film earned a Golden Globe nomination and won the César for Best Foreign Film, it frustrated critics with a melodramatic lurch into murder mystery territory. However, it performed well at the box office and will intrigue Cinema Paradiso users holding a candle for such Hollywood weepies as Michael Curtiz's Mildred Pierce (1945).

Almodóvar himself considers Kika (1993) to be one of his lesser achievements (which makes it all the more unmissable, of course). The plan was to critique sensationalist journalism by having reporter Andrea Caracortada (Abril) report on the daily life of Kika (Verónica Forqué), a make-up artist who is involved with American writer Nicholas Pierce (Peter Coyote) and his stepson, Ramón (Àlex Casanovas). Forqué won the Goya for Best Actress, but the rape scene played for laughs led to accusations of misogyny and exploitation.

A still from The Flower of My Secret (1995)
A still from The Flower of My Secret (1995)

Parting company with cinematographer Alfredo Mayo, Almodóvar recruited Affonso Beato to shoot The Flower of My Secret (1995), which saw another tonal shift. At the centre of affairs is Leocadia Macías (Marisa Paredes), a romantic novelist who is facing professional and personal crises, while her NATO official husband, Paco (Imanol Arias), is embroiled in the Bosnian War. Despite deft performances by Chus Lampreave and Rossy de Palma, as Leo's mother and sister, critics found the film unfocussed and melodramatic, even though it drew seven Goya nominations.

Seeking a change of mood, Almodóvar wrote his first adapted screenplay for Live Flesh (1997), which relocated a Ruth Rendell thriller from Britain to Spain. It opens during the 1970 State of Emergency called by General Franco, as a prostitute named Isabel (Penélope Cruz) gives birth to a son. A quarter of a century later, however, the adult Victor (Liberto Rabal) finds himself obsessed with Elena (Francesca Neri), the junkie lover who is now married to David (Javier Bardem), the cop who was left in a wheelchair after the hostage siege that had consigned Victor to jail.

Brooding and twisting, this unsettling saga would make a fine Cinema Paradiso double bill with another Rendell reworking, Claude Chabrol's La Céremonie (1995). But, while it earned a BAFTA nomination, Live Flesh was only a modest commercial success. So, Almodóvar immersed himself in the works of Federico García Lorca and Tennessee Williams in order to create, All About My Mother (1999), which he dedicated to actresses Bette Davis, Romy Schneider and Gena Rowlands, as well as his own mother, Francisca.

Picking up a thread from The Flower of My Secret, the plot follows Manuela Echevarria (Cecilia Roth), who mourns the sudden death of her son by travelling to Barcelona to inform his father, a trans woman named Lola (Toni Cantó), about their loss. On reuniting with her old friend, Agrado (Antonio San Juan), Manuela takes up with actress Huma (Marisa Paredes), addict Nina (Candela Peña) and nun Rosa (Penélope Cruz), who is HIV+ and expecting Lola's child.

Once again centred on the strength of sisterhood, the film explores the themes of identity, performance, family, friendship, memory and loss, while also examining the roles that religion and traditional morality played in the AIDS crisis. With its allusions to Joseph L. Mankiewicz's All About Eve (1950) and John Cassavetes's Opening Night (1977), the picture proved an award magnet after Almodóvar took the Best Director Prize at Cannes. In addition to converting half of its 12 Goya nominations, it also won the Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film in becoming the most decorated feature in Spanish screen history. Moreover, it took $67 million worldwide in paying tribute to 'all actresses who have played actresses, to all women who act, to men who act and become women, to all people who want to become mothers'.


A still from Wild Tales (2014)
A still from Wild Tales (2014)

Having hit 50, Almodóvar took a break around the turn of the millennium. However, he returned to producing after having worked on Álex de la Iglesias's Acción Mutante (1993), as an executive producer on Guillermo Del Toro's The Devil's Backbone (2001). Subsequently, El Deseo has also sponsored Isabel Coixet's My Life Without Me (2003), The Secret Life of Words (2005) and It Snows in Benidorm (2020); Lucrecia Martel's The Holy Girl (2004), The Headless Woman (2008) and Zama (2017); Julia Salomonoff's The Last Summer of La Boyita (2009); Damián Szifrón's Wild Tales (2014); and Pablo Trapero's The Clan (2015).

Almodóvar returned to directing with Talk to Her (2002), a flashbacking drama that reveals how two strangers at a Pina Bausch dance performance in Madrid, nurse Marco Zuluaga (Darío Grandinetti) and travel writer Benigno Martín (Javier Cámara), wind up ministering to two comatose women, dance student Alicía Roncero (Leonor Watling) and bullfighter, Lydia González (Rosario Flores).

Touching on everything from love, loss and forgiveness to passion, communication and art, this poignant and impeccably played disquisition on fate and fortune includes Shrinking Lover, an erotic silent pastiche that bears the influence of D.W. Griffith, F.W. Murnau and Fritz Lang. Acclaimed and profitable, the picture earned Almodóvar the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, as well as a nomination for Best Director. He would also win the Golden Globe and the BAFTA for Best Foreign Film, as well as a César

The mood was even more sombre in Bad Education (2004), an examination of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church that took a decade for Almodóvar to script. Opening in 1980, when film director Enrique Goded (Fele Martínez) is offered a provocative screenplay by a man who claims to have been his schooldays lover, Ignacio Rodriguéz (Gael Garcia Bernal), the action slips between the 1960s and 70s to link a trans drag queen named Zaharia (also Bernal) with teacher-priest, Father Manolo (Daniel Giménez Cacho).

Intricate, intense and traumatic, this is one of Almodóvar's most unsettling works, as it denounces the Francoist and Vatican establishments for allowing molestation to ruin countless lives. But it's also a paean to the cinema that shaped the director's artistic sensibilities, with Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity (1944) and Purple Noon - René Clément's 1960 take on Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr Ripley (which was filmed under this title by Anthony Minghella in 1999) - among the specific references.

Having become the first Spanish title to open the Cannes Film Festival, this teasingly complex meta-noir drew four Goya nominations en route to becoming one of the most successful NC-17 releases at the US box office, behind Ang Lee's Lust, Caution (2007) and Gerard Damiano's Deep Throat (1972), whose scurrilous history unfolds in Fenton Bailey's documentary, Inside Deep Throat (2005).

A still from Inside Deep Throat (2005)
A still from Inside Deep Throat (2005)

Those paying attention during The Flower of My Secret will remember a stolen manuscript that becomes the basis of a film entitled The Freezer. Well, that scenario resurfaced as Volver (2006), which is set in the La Mancha of Almodóvar's youth and owes much to his affection for neo-realism and the work of Luchino Visconti, Federico Fellini and Pier Paolo Pasolini. Marking a brief rapprochement with Carmen Maura and a more lasting reunion with cinematographer José Luis Alcaine, this tribute to the strong women in the director's past combines comic, melodramatic and supernatural elements to riveting effect.

At its heart is Raimunda (Penélope Cruz), who has hidden the body of her murdered ex-partner in a restaurant freezer, while dealing with the fact that the ghost of her mother, Irene (Maura), has come back to haunt her three years after a tragic fire. With Lola Dueñas, Yohana Cobo and Chus Lampreave co-starring as Raimunda's sister, daughter and dotty aunt, alongside Blanca Portillo's dope-smoking neighbour, the female ensemble deservedly took the Best Actress prize at Cannes, where Almodóvar landed Best Screenplay. Penélope Cruz also became the first Spaniard to be nominated for Best Actress at the Academy Awards, while the $87 million take made this the director's highest-grossing outing.

Any hopes that this triumph would patch things up with Maura were soon dashed, as she rebelled against his tried-and-trusted method of acting out roles to set the tone during rehearsal and shooting multiple takes without giving feedback on set. Yet, while proclaiming to be 'a director of actors', Almodóvar sets such store by the screenplay that there's little room for cast members to make their own suggestions.

Following a three-year sabbatical, Almodóvar hit screens again with Broken Embraces (2009), a Hitchcockian thriller that came complete with a Bernard Herrmannesque score by composer Alberto Iglesias and a Women on the Verge pastiche entitled Girls and Suitcases. Switching between the early 1990s and the late 2000s, the action turns around blind novelist Harry Caine (Lluís Homar), who keeps being reminded of his days as a film director, when millionaire Ernesto Martel (José Luis Gómez) had hired him to make a star of his wife, Lena (Penélope Cruz).

Although not as garlanded as previous works, this treatise on cinema, image and identity still received Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations. Photographed in noirish tones by Mexican cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, Cruz invokes the spirit of Sophia Loren, Jeanne Moreau, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Kim Novak and Tippi Hedren in a dazzling display that enabled Almodóvar to pay tribute to his movie muses.

Pregnancy cost Cruz the chance to reunite with Antonio Banderas in The Skin I Live In (2011), a psychological horror that owes debts to both Thierry Jonquet's novel, Tarantula, and Georges Franju's Eyes Without a Face (1960). Genre aficionados will also notice, the influence of silent Expressionists like Murnau and Lang and such giallo pioneers as Mario Bava, Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and Umberto Lenzi. The body horror of David Cronenberg is also referenced and Cinema Paradiso users can discover the works of these master film-makers by entering their names in the searchline that never disappoints.

Set in a secluded Toledo mansion, the story centres on plastic surgeon Robert Ledgard (Banderas), who has devoted himself to creating a fire-resistant form of artificial skin since his late wife was disfigured in a car crash. In order to complete his work, he is abetted in keeping Vera Cruz (Elena Anaya) a prisoner by housekeeper Marilia (Marisa Paredes), who alone knows the truth about her employer's daughter, Norma (Blanca Suárez), and her own son, Zeca (Roberto Álamo).

A still from Suite Francaise (2014)
A still from Suite Francaise (2014)

In addition to receiving BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations, this meticulously staged melodrama also earned the Best Actress Goya for Elena Anaya. Moreover, it led to Almodóvar being invited to adapt Irène Némirovsky's Occupation epic, Suite Française. Much as he admired the novel, however, the Spaniard was reluctant to get involved with such a large-scale production and Michelle Williams and Kristin Scott Thomas were ultimately directed by Saul Dibb in 2014.

By which time, Almodóvar had completed I'm So Excited (2013), a raucous comedy that also doubles as a snapshot of Spanish society in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash. Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz take cameos before stewards Joserra (Javier Cámara), Fajardo (Carlos Areces) and Ulloa (Raúl Arévalo) join Captain Alex Acero (Antonio de la Torre) and co-pilot Benito Morón (Hugo Silva) in welcoming to First Class such eccentric passengers as diva celebrity Norma Boss (Cecilia Roth), shady banker Más (José Luis Torrijo), mysterious Mexican Infante (José María Yazpik), and unstable innocent, Bruna (Lola Dueñas).

Blending high camp, sharp satire, toe-tapping musical numbers and saucy interludes, this was welcomed as a throwback to Almodóvar's Movida romps. But the mixed reception suggested that time had moved on when some of the more risqué jokes hadn't and few were surprised when, after another three-year hiatus, Almodóvar returned to drama with Julieta (2016).

The reason for the delay was that Almodóvar had considered making this reworking of three Alice Munro short stories in Hollywood. He had optioned 'Chance', 'Silence' and 'Soon' in 2009 and shifted the location from Canada to New England so that he could shoot in Boston. Meryl Streep was even approached about playing the eponymous school teacher. However, he was aware that he risked imposing Spanish traits on to American characters and even a switch of setting to New York couldn't convince Almodóvar that the screenplay felt and sounded authentic.

Consequently, he resorted to Madrid and cast Emma Suárez and Adriana Ugarte to play Julieta either side of the life-changing happening that had estranged her from the daughter who is now raising three children of her own in Switzerland. Flashing back from her decision to recap her eventful life in a journal, the action explores the price people pay for the decisions they make from what they believe to be the best of intentions.

Visually sumptuous and emotionally challenging, the film only partially convinced the critics, although it received seven Goya nominations and a BAFTA citation. However, Almodóvar didn't enjoy working with a digital camera for the first time and had to endure negative headlines when it emerged during the Panama Papers scandal that his brother had invested sums in an offshore account. The box office suffered as a result of the negative press, even though Augustín announced that Pedro had personally done nothing untoward.

It's tempting to suggest that the ensuing period of introspection prompted the writing of Pain and Gain (2019), which is easily Almodóvar's most autobiographical work to date. Once again, two actresses share a single role, as Penélope Cruz and Julieta Serrano play Jacinta, the mother of film-maker Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas), who is beginning to look and feel his age, as he resigns himself to the fact that he will probably never make another movie. Moreover, he isn't looking forward to a revival of his biggest 1980s hit, Flavour, as he has agreed to do a Q&A with its star, Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia), whom he hasn't seen since they fell out three decades earlier.

Losing out on the Palme d'or and the Oscar for Best International Film to Bong Joon-ho's Parasite, this frank look in the mirror earned Banderas the Best Actor prize at Cannes. He and Serrano also won at the Goyas, where Almodóvar picked up the awards for Best Film, Director and Original Screenplay.

A still from The Human Voice (2020)
A still from The Human Voice (2020)

Buoyed by the acclaim, he finally got round to making his English-language debut with The Human Voice (2020). However, the Covid pandemic delayed filming of Jean Cocteau's play for several months before Tilda Swinton could strut for an emotion-packed half hour around Antxón Gómez's retro chic set in a striking variety of Balenciaga creations.

Lockdown again hampered production of Parallel Mothers, but it opens in the UK on the back of a successful tour of the festival circuit. Despite receiving a Golden Globe nomination, a subplot involving Civil War mass graves made the picture too contentious to be Spain's submission to the Academy Awards. But Penélope Cruz thoroughly deserved her Volpi Cup win at the Venice Film Festival for her performance as Janis Martinez, the photographer who gives birth to a daughter on the same day as Ana Manso (Milena Smit), a waitress who has a tense relationship with her actress mother, Teresa (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón).

Almodóvar has stated that 'motherhood is blessed in my movies...You can make a thousand different movies about it.' Cinema Paradiso users will have to wait a short while for this moving drama to appear on high-quality DVD and Blu-ray. But everyone will have to be patient for Almodóvar's next assignment, as Cate Blanchett has only just signed up to headline his English-language adaptation of Lucia Berlin's short story collection, A Manual for Cleaning Women.

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