Almodóvar: Mixing Comedy and Tragedy

        Until the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, Spanish cinema was little known outside of its borders. The strict censorship of the Franco regime made it extremely difficult for filmmakers to produce films of quality. By 1977, the Franco censorship had disappeared, and its economy became integrated with the economy of Europe. This opened upon new opportunities for Spanish film.

        Most of the films in this post-fascist atmosphere were driven by strong social and political themes, which could not be explored prior to Franco's death. On such film, The Cuenca Crime, became of particular interest when it pushed the limits of political realism further than even post-fascist Spain could handle. The film was suppressed for a couple of years, and its director, Pilar Miró, was unsuccessfully tried for defamation. After the film's eventual release, it became one of the most financially successful Spanish films to date. Miró was appointed by the newly elected premier as the director general of cinematography. While in this position, Miró managed to create a context for true art cinema in Spain.

        One of Miró's contemporaries who helped develop Spanish art cinema was Pedro Almodóvar. Almodóvar is currently one of the top Spanish directors, and his films have remained one of the number one exports of Spain since the 1980s. By the 1990s, the economic infrastructure of the Spanish industry had solidified. This has enabled Spanish films to achieve a level of quality previously only imaginable. One of Almodóvar's films managed to nab an Oscar for best foreign film. All About My Mother (1999) is a film about a woman dealing with tragedy.

        The film is full of extremely depressing events yet still manages to maintain a humorous tone. Examples of the dark events throughout are the death of our main character's son, her good friend contracts AIDS and gets pregnant, that friend then dies. That is just a couple of the tragic things that take place in the film. The film keeps a comic tone through, mainly, one character: a middle-aged transsexual prostitute. Almodóvar's films (or at least all the ones I have seen) do something similar to this; they contain both extremely depressing segments and hilarious scenes. Another identifying feature of Almodóvar's work is the strong homosexual themes present in a lot of his films. There is even usually sexual perversion of the hetero type as can be seen in Talk to Her. In Talk to Her, a male nurse falls in love with a ballerina that he watches dance across the street. After an accident, she slips into a coma, and just by coincidence he becomes her caregiver. He ends up impregnating her (while she is still in the coma) and goes to prison.

        His most recent film, Bad Education, contained the most explicit homosexual themes of any of the other films. The story centers on a man who was molested by a Catholic priest as a child. He becomes a homosexual and eventually a transsexual. The story is told through a script that he has written about the events of his life. Toward the end, the script and the real story become intertwined.

        My favorite work of his that I have seen is definitely All About My Mother. It contained most of the artful cinematography and narrative present in the two later films, but was more straightforward in telling the story. By the time we read Bad Education, the pacing and clarity of the story being told becomes worse. All About My Mother is certainly his finest achievement in recent films. I need to next explore some of his earlier work from the 80s, like Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.

Jacob Nerney

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