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Enfant terrible of Spanish cinema

Oscar winner Pedro Almodovar's "Women On The Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" opened the Spanish Film Festival (Oct 15-17) in Chennai. RANDOR GUY takes a look at the filmmaker and his work.



Spanish Director Pedro Almodovar.

THE MOST brilliant Spanish filmmaker of them all, Pedro Almodovar is considered today by critics and crowds as next only to the Spanish movie maestro Luis Bunuel (1900-83).

His film opened the Spanish Film Festival (Oct15-17) in Chennai. It was organised by the Consul of Spain in New Delhi, Honorary Council for Spain in Chennai, Federation of Film Societies of India (Northern region), ICA and Madras Film Society. Described as enfant terrible of Spanish Cinema, he rose on the Spanish movie horizon like a galloping meteor soon after the totalitarian stranglehold dictatorial reign of General Franco came to an end in 1975 with his demise. The departure of the dictator released the Spanish society free from its festering fetters and liberation danced its way in Spanish cinema. One of them who contributed most to such change is Pedro Almodovar.

At first he was an insular Spanish filmmaker not known outside his native land, and later he blazed a hot blistering trail in the film festival circuit with his unorthodox but artistic and sizzling movies. With remarkable daring, drive and dynamism he kicked at sacred cows, broke venerated idols, and created sensation with his iconoclastic movies the likes of which Spain - and the rest of the world have not seen earlier. In this respect he went one step ahead of the Hispanic high priest of Cinema, Luis Bunuel.

During the late 1980s he broke into mainstream and international cinema and he made his presence in Hollywood and elsewhere felt with his `Oscar' nomination for Best Foreign Film for ``Women On The Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" (1988). And he got another boost when he won the `Oscar' for `Best Foreign Film,' for his ``All About My Mother'' (1999).

Such a fascinating filmmaker is Pedro Almodovar. His movies are not idealistic exercises in celluloid. No. They are a rich and zany blend of comedy, tragedy and drama, the main ingredients of human life. He combines them all with a bewildering bevy of female characters who are not free to live the lives they wish to. Spanish society and especially its women had been for several decades under the rigid repression of the state, and religion and after the fall of Franco they broke out of the vice-hold of the establishment. And Almodover's movies are full of such characters, married women with unfulfilled desires, down to earth prostitutes and even pregnant nuns. And gay men too. It is a world ruled by passion and desire, love and lust, and not rules and regulations, and draconian religious measures.

With a deep sense of detachment and cynicism he looks at the world of women and the men and their heterosexual relationships, tangle of problems, pressures, pluses and minuses. He mixes them all into a delicious cocktail on screen with effervescent brilliance and igniting irony.

Writer, filmmaker, music composer, producer, and also actor Pedro Almodovar has been described as `the Renaissance Man' of Modern Spain. He was born on September 24, 1951, in Calzada de Calatrava, Spain and the family lived below the poverty line. When he was ten his parents moved to Extramadura where he attended school run by Salesian fathers. Here he found that he had no faith in what the priests were teaching the students and decided to break free of religious fetters.

Drawn to the powerful medium of Cinema he wished to study at a film institute, which was not possible due to lack of financial resources.

Besides Franco had closed many film schools, as he did not want any new winds of change to blow into Spanish Cinema. However working in the telephone department in Madrid, Almodovar saved enough money to buy a Super - 8 camera, and for six long years between 1972 and 1978 he shot many short films. As part of the `Underground Spanish Cinema' they attracted considerable attention and Pedro Almodovar began to get noticed.

The return of democracy to Spain after the demise of Franco, censorship hoops began to loosen which enabled Almodovar to make his way up the ladder of success. During the late 1970s a pop art movement known as La Movida became popular and Almodovar was one of the leaders. And in 1980 he succeeded in making his first feature film ``Pepi, Luci ,Bom..." He shot the film in 16 mm due to economic reasons and enlarged it to 35 mm. It was a scathing expose and attack on the middle class mores and morals revealing the corruption, immorality, and other degrading values in man-woman relationships. This film shocked Spain and created sensation, elevating enhancing the status of Almodovar as a filmmaker.

Inspired by success Almodovar made films such as ``Labyrinth of Passion" (1982)... ``What Have I Done To Deserve This?" (1984)... ``Matador" (1985) and others.

And then in 1988 he made waves on the international scene with his sensational movie, ``Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown."

This movie proved a sensation and narrated the story of a woman who is abandoned by her husband and her involvement with other women with their own lives, and also men. Western movie critics noticed that this movie reminded them of the legendary `screwball' comedies of the Golden Age of Hollywood, made by Frank Capra, Howard Hawks, Preston Sturges and Ernst Lubitsch. In his own way Almodovar created a zany world of women of many kinds and their men.

The movie was nominated at the Oscars for the `Best Foreign Film' and it became so popular in America that the Hollywood star Jane Fonda showed interest in the re-make of the film. But due to several reasons the project did not take-off. The impact of this film was so great that Almodovar received offers to direct Hollywood movies but he did not accept them because he knew that he would not feel comfortable with his iconoclastic methods of movie making.

``Women... " meanwhile had spin-offs. One of the Spanish actors, who regularly appeared in Almodovar's movies, Antonio Banderas made his way to Hollywood Cinema and became a star. Another protégé of his who made her way to Hollywood is Penelope Cruz! Almodovar bagged the `Oscar' for `Best Foreign Film' for his masterpiece, ``All About My Mother" (2000). It was a movie of a mother and a son who does not know the identity of his father. To reveal the past and his father the mother takes him out of town to watch a play. Before the mother could tell her son about the father, the young man dies in an accident. The mother continues her search for the father to tell him what had happened to the son.

This was somewhat a melodramatic movie for Almodovar but his usual ingredients of sex and violence, taking digs at society were all present in typical Almodovar style.

These two movies firmly established Almodovar as a master moviemaker now internationally known, and admired and even adored. And he has won nearly 50 awards for his movies including the Oscar. Sadly he is relatively unknown in India mainly because Spanish films do not have the distribution network they deserve.

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