Almodovar: from camp to seriousness and back

June 20th, 2013 by Ben

With I’m So Excited about to be released next weekend, Pedro Almodovar gets back to some of the elements that made him such a unique filmmaker in the beginning of his career: it’s a campy comedy, crude at times and very stylized. Maybe this acclaimed director, who went all the way from camp to serious Oscar-winning drama, is implying it’s time for a retrospective?

A little about Almodovar’s style, for those of you who are not familiar with his work (shame on you!): He tends to be very post-modern, combining different genres and film styles into complex narratives. he often uses melodramatic elements and irreverent humor. His visual style is very bold and colorful, and of course there’s the issue of Camp – a lot of references to gay sexuality, cross-dressing, kitsch etc.

Almodovar is also known for collaborating with several actors for long stretches. He made 7 films with Carmen Maura, 6 with Marisa Paredes and 5 with Penelope Cruz, which is his most recurring actress in recent years. Antonio Banderas also began his career with Almodovar on his way to become a big Hollywood star, and worked with him on 7 films in total (2 of them in recent years, after he rose to fame).

Almodovar won 99 awards as a director and screenwriter in his career, some of them in prestigious festivals like Cannes and Venice, and an Academy Award. Now, figure in that I haven’t even included   the prizes won by the films themselves….

So without further ado here are 10 important stages in Pedro Almodovar’s career:

Matador (1986)
Dark and violent, this is one of the heaviest films in Almodovar’s early career. The connection between sexuality, death and violence, which turns to be one of the main elements in his work, appears here for the first time, in a very controversial way.

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988)
A light comedy dealing with women, was Almodovar’s first huge international success. It has established him as a “women’s director”, meaning he often prefers dealing with female characters than with male ones. The fast-paced, sharp-dialogue flick gained international acclaim, including prizes at Toronto and Venice film festivals and his first Oscar nomination. It’s a perfect example of the Campy tone of Almodovar’s early career.

Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990)
A complex yet comic love story between a kidnapper and his hostage is the center of this film. The sadomasochistic undertones of the film again emphasize Almodovar’s fascination with sex and violence.

Kika (1993)
One of the well known works of Almodovar, this sharp media satire is one of the peaks in his early, comedic, campy work. With scenes both controversial, memorable and outrageous (for example the humorous rape scene) it is a classic Almodovar work.

The Flower of My Secret (1995)
This film marks a shift in Almodovar’s style towards a more serious and mature tone. It is a drama dealing with crumbling love, depression and denial. Many elements in it hint at themes of future, better known films like All About My Mother and Talk to Her.

All About My Mother (1999)
Probably the most successful film of Almodovar, All About My Mother is a perfect combination between the serious, more mature style of his later career and the campy, melodramatic themes of his early career. It won more awards than any other Spanish film, including the coveted academy award for best foreign language film.

Talk to Her (2002)
Another peak of Almodovar’s career, this is an emotional drama about two women in a coma and the men who love and take care of them, who form a strange friendship. Combining elements of modern dance and silent film, it also received many awards and gave Almodovar his only (so far) academy award for best direction.

Bad Education (2004)
Continuing the serious tone, this is one of the director’s heaviest films, a story about child sexual abuse using film noir elements. Almodovar worked for over 10 years on the script, and the complex structure which uses several stories within stories and films within film definitely clarifies why.

Volver (2006)
The peak of the collaboration between Almodovar and Penelope Cruz. The film is a mixture of comedy and family drama, once again focusing on strong women surviving difficulties. It also boasts many post modern characteristics, including homages to classic films and references to reality TV.

I’m So Excited! (2013)
As mentioned in the opening, this film is a sort of return to Almodovar’s early style. it is very campy, very funny and very irreverent. some of the more conservative viewers might be a bit shocked with all of the sexual jokes, but overall it’s a fun break after a series of serious films.

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