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12 Essential Pedro Almodóvar Films You Need To Watch

22 May 2014 | Features, Film Lists | by Jose Gallegos

best Pedro Almodóvar films

Spain has a variety of unique filmmakers, but very few have resonated as profusely in the international film market as Pedro Almodóvar has. With 19 films under his belt, as well as awards from Cannes, Venice, and the Oscars, Almodóvar has crafted a reputation that is evoked by his often-used tagline: “A film by Almodóvar.”

His success is a result of his circumstances: he began making films during the transitory period between the death of Franco and the development of the progressive/transgressive la Movida. The establishment of Almodóvar’s company, El Deseo, ensured his autonomous power in the Spanish film industry, allowing him to develop a unique voice and provocative perspectives that would help create a new image for Spain.

With his tight-knit crew (including his brother, Agustín) and stable of actors (Marisa Paredes, Penélope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Cecilia Roth, and Chus Lampreave, to name a few), Almodovar seamlessly weaves international influence with a Spanish sensibility. His films have their own built-in film language and mythology, creating stories whose narrative trajectories are interconnected in one another. His films borrow heavily from the international language of melodrama, which is able to tap into emotions and images that speak volumes to those who may not necessarily speak Spanish.

This list looks at twelve of his most important works, which reflect technical, cultural, or personal landmarks for Almodóvar’s career. They range from his fun sex comedies to his more serious works, and everything in between.

 

12. Volver (2006)

Volver

Set in Almodóvar’s hometown of La Mancha (whose mechanized windmills evoke an industrialized image of Don Quixote), Volver follows Raimunda (Penélope Cruz) and her sister, Soledad (Lola Dueñas), who deal with the death of their aunt, Paula (Chus Lampreave). As Raimunda opens a secret restaurant and hides the rotting corpse of her dead husband, Soledad continues her illegal hair salon by hiring the “ghost” of her mother, Irene (Carmen Maura). Secrets are revealed, and the familial bonds that were once severed soon begin to mend.

Almodóvar blends neorealism with ghost stories in order to explore women who are unable to hide the skeletons in their closets. It is a continuation of his more serious works (which begin with The Flower of My Secret). This marks one of the first instances in which Almodóvar deals openly with the fear of sex, and it also marks the return of Carmen Maura, who haunted Almodóvar’s film canon during her 14-year absence.

 

11. La piel que habito (2011)

The Skin I Live In

Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) creates a durable skin that can resist burns and insect bites. He grafts it onto the mysterious Vera (Elena Anaya), a test subject who is held captive in Robert’s estate. The connection between two is ambiguous, but a series of flashbacks soon reveals their intertwined (and painful) pasts.

La piel que habito (The Skin I Live In) is a brilliant, if not tense, horror film that avoids any of the generic spooks and surprises. It explores how femininity is imposed on a person, utilizing images of patchwork mannequins and eerie masks (which evoke Edith Scob’s iconic mask from Eyes Without A Face). This is also the return of Antonio Banderas, who departed from Almodóvar’s work in hopes of finding a Hollywood career.

 

10. ¿Que he hecho yo para merecer esto? (1984)

What Have I Done to Deserve This

Gloria (Carmen Maura) is a frustrated housewife who is stuck in a loveless marriage, works a tiring job, and lives in the confined tower blocks of Madrid. To make ends meet, she sells her son to a pedophilic dentist, sends her mother-in-law (Chus Lampreave) back to the village, and kills her husband (Angel de Andres Lopez) with a ham bone.

¿Que he hecho yo para merecer esto? (What Have I Done to Deserve This?) is Almodóvar’s first socially conscious film. It explores Gloria’s frustration through a neorealist lens, examining issues of gender and class while also showcasing Maura’s nuanced acting abilities (which would aid her in Almodóvar’s later, more polished works).

 

9. La flor de mi secreto (1995)

The Flower of My Secret

Leo (Marisa Paredes) is a writer who secretly pens “pink” novels under the pseudonym “Amanda Gris.” As she explores new avenues for her writing and tries to publish more controversial work, Leo discovers that her marriage is slowly disintegrating. Similar to her struggle to remove her husband’s military boots from her feet, Leo realizes that her relationship with her husband is a difficult obstacle to overcome.

La flor de mi secreto (The Flower of My Secret) is a fantastic film that delves into the story of a woman caught amidst dueling Spanish identities (one of which is grounded in romanticized history and military fetishism, while the other is longing for more gritty and passionate relationships). The film is credited as the beginning of Almodóvar’s mature/serious period, as well as being the first entry in Almodovar’s masterful “Brain Dead” trilogy.

 

8. Laberinto de pasiones (1982)

Labyrinth of Passion

Sexilia (Cecilia Roth) is a nymphomaniac pop star who goes from orgy to orgy looking for pleasure. Riza (Imanol Arias) is a gay Middle Eastern prince who, while hiding in Spain from terrorists, conquers any and all men who tickle his fancy. When Sexilia and Riza unexpectedly meet, the two transform in order to please one another (Sexilia tries to overcome her nymphomania and Riza tries to become a heterosexual).

Laberinto de pasiones (Labyrinth of Passion) is one of the best examples of Almodóvar’s involvement in la Movida. His ability to depict a progressive/sexual image of contemporary Spain is coupled with his ability to create an intriguing portrait of two people who tap into their fluid sexualities. The underground tone of the film gives it a queer and kitschy sensibility, one that would be refined over the years for mainstream consumption. In my opinion, this is one of Almodóvar’s best sex comedies, which he tried (and failed) to recreate with 2013’s Los amantes pasajeros (I’m So Excited).

 

7. Matador (1986)

Matador (1986)

Diego Montez (Nacho Martinez) and Maria Cardenal (Assumpta Serna) fetishize violence and murder for sexual pleasure. Diego, who was injured from a bullfight, watches horror films in order to ejaculate, while Maria kills men and straddles their corpses. The meeting of the two becomes a meeting of like minds, and they plan to consummate their carnal desires during an eclipse.

Almodóvar’s controversial classic is a provocative take on Spanish culture, which itself fetishizes blood and violence through the figure of the matador. Though Almodóvar has stated that this is one of his two weakest efforts (along with Kika), it is still an interesting image of contemporary Spain crafting its own desires through its bloody roots.

 

 

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  • Elisabeth White

    I still cry every time I watch All About My Mother.. such a beautiful film.. you can feel the pathos from this side of the screen…

  • Alex

    90% people in spain hates almodovar.

    • Brian Lussier

      Why?

      • Alex

        politics. He is an alleged corrupt and finance their films, mostly with grants the country, namely people’s money.
        Also, spanish people don’t like too much Almodovar’s works.
        Maybe i’m wrong and 90% is too much. But i think i’m right. Besides this, javier bardem is another actor that don’t like to spanish people because of his hypocrisy. He supports socialists and protest for economic crisis and stuff like that, but then he earn a lot of money but pays incomes taxes away of spain.
        Anyway, we must not mix how pedro directs films or javier acts with how are they as a person. Because maybe they are good in cinema (not for me), but they are very bad persons.

        P.S. Sorry for my bad english

        • Brian Lussier

          Oh, OK. Thanks for the answer. Personally I’m still going to consider Hable Con Ella (Talk To Her) one of the greatest films of world cinema, and one of the Top 5 films of its decade period. Lord Of The Rings, There Will Be Blood, Brokeback Mountain and 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days are the other 4. Not sure if I actually put Hable Con Ella #5 or if I put it #6 and put Guillermo Del Toro’s El Laberinto Del Fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth) #5, to be honest, but anyway… Are you Spanish?

          • Alex

            Good films!
            yeah, i’m spanish 🙂

          • Brian Lussier

            Oh, okay. I guess that explains how you know all this. To a lot of people outside of Spain, especially to people like me who are tired of the average Hollywood crap released in droves every week, Almodovar is almost a god! Haha! But he’s not my favorite non-english director either. That honor would go to either Austrian Michael Haneke (especially since Caché in 2005, followed by The White Ribbon and Amour, two masterpieces), Japanese Hirokazu Kore-eda (both Still Walking and his 2004 film, of which the title escapes me at present, are masterpieces too) or French Jacques Audiard, whose films Un Héros Très Discret and Un Prophète are once again masterpieces. Almodovar would come somewhere after that. Iranian director Asghar Farhadi and Romanian director Christian Mungiu are also high on my list, as well as South Korea’s Bong Joon-Ho, mainly thanks to Madeo.

          • Alex

            wow! I like Haneke too. I love Funny Games, the one from 1997. François Truffaut by La nuit americaine, Fahrenheit 451…

            About Bong Joon-Ho, I went to his masterclass about two months ago in Valladolid (Spain). I enjoyed it very much 🙂

          • Brian Lussier

            Oh, cool! Love Truffaut too, but I was referring mostly to recent films of world cinema, say since the beginning of the 2000s, otherwise I would have talked at length about my love for Antonioni and especially Visconti. I think Death In Venice is my favorite non-english film ever.

          • cetopi

            that’s just not true.
            almodovar is very political, as many of his colleagues. Of course he’s against the conservative party, so the conservative party has tried to build a big hate in population against him… and all spanish cinema!
            So part of the conservative people in spain hate him, but that’s sooo FAR from 90%.
            It’s easy to presume alex is one of them, and he thinks everybody thinks or should think as him.

        • Elizabeth M

          Sadly,you’re right…

        • Mahound

          I think you’ve just described the nature of socialists everywhere. They’re hypocrites to the core.

  • asalways

    I’ve watched 10 on this list and 16 of his altogether! Yay!

  • lilyboosh

    Of his recent stuff certainly “Volver” is the best.

  • Vik

    Talons Aiquilles?