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12 Essential Pedro Almodóvar Films You Need To Watch

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

6. ¡Atame! (1990)

Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!

Ricky (Antonio Banderas) escapes a mental institution in order to find Marina (Victoria Abril), a former porn star who is trying to reinvent her image with mainstream film work. Ricky kidnaps Marina under the assumption that she will eventually fall in love with him. The two fight (all the while Marina deals with tooth ache that she never took care of), but they eventually come together while “Resistiré” plays on their car radio.

¡Atame! (Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!) was met with controversy in the States when it received an NC-17 rating for its depictions of sex (including Marina’s use of a scuba diver toy). It walks the fine line between art and pornography, but its gratuitous nature serves an artistic purpose. The film plays with the “Beauty and the Beast” narrative, following two people whose relationship and desires are played through their overt sexuality, not through sadomasochistic bondage.


5. La ley del deseo (1987)

Law of desire

Pablo (Eusebio Poncela) is a director and screenwriter who shares his success with his transsexual sister, Tina (Carmen Maura), and his on-again, off-again lover, Juan (Miguel Molina). However, Pablo’s fling with of one of his fans, Antonio (Antonio Banderas), leads to a chaos, which includes the murder of Juan.

La ley del deseo (Law of Desire) is a steamy romance filled with images of heat and fire (referencing the characters own obsessions and desires). Maura is the shining star of the film, creating a nuanced portrait of a transsexual woman who owns her own concept of femininity. Law of Desire is the first film produced under Almodóvar’s production company, El Deseo, which gave Almodóvar autonomous control over his future projects. The film also helped the director receive his first international accolades at the Venice Film Festival.


4. Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (1988)

Women on the Verge of A Nervous Breakdown

Pepa Marcos (Carmen Maura) is a voice-over actress who is primarily known as the TV mother of the “Cross Roads” killer. As Pepa tries desperately to contact her estranged boyfriend, Ivan (Fernando Guillén), she encounters a series of mishaps that include spiked gazpacho and Shiite terrorists.

Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (Women on the Verge of A Nervous Breakdown) sealed Almodóvar’s reputation as a zany and madcap director. The film seamlessly integrates foreign influence (Johnny Guitar, “Soy Infeliz,” etc) with a Spanish flare (film dubbing, gazpacho, Spanish television), creating a uniquely Spanish vision that maintains an international appeal. It was his most polished work at the time, creating a new image for Spanish cinema. Sadly, it also marked the departure of Maura, who would not work with Almodovar until 2006’s Volver.


3. Todo sobre mi madre (1999)

All About My Mother

Manuela (Cecilia Roth) is a grieving mother whose son was fatally injured in an accident. As Manuela donates his organs, she re-evaluates her conservative life in Madrid and decides to return to Barcelona in order to meet with her estranged husband, who never knew he had a son.

Todo sobre mi madre (All About My Mother) is the second entry of the “Brain Dead” trilogy, and is hands down my favorite film by Almodóvar. It blends the metaphor of transplantation with ideas of femininity, while also celebrating Spain’s liberal identity (Gaudi’s architecture, the sex circles of Barcelona, and the rehearsal of “Blood Wedding”). It deservedly won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.


2. La mala educación (2004)

Bad Education

Enrique Goded (Fele Martinez), a successful director, has a chance encounter with a person claiming to be his old classmate, Ignacio (Gael Garcia Bernal). Ignacio offers Enrique a script about a fictionalized encounter with the priest who abused Ignacio in boarding school. The two develop an attraction for one another, but the revelation of Ignacio’s real identity throws Enrique (and the audience) into a tailspin.

More than any other film, La mala educación (Bad Education) seems to be Almodóvar’s most personal work. It includes themes that were seen in many of his previous films (multiple identities, two brothers, transsexual women), while filling in the narrative ellipses that were left in Law of Desire. It is evident that Enrique is modeled after Almodóvar, leaving one to wonder how much of this film is borrowed from real life.


1. Hable con ella (2002)


Benigno (Javier Cámara) and Marco (Dario Grandinetti) care for two comatose women – Alicia (Leonor Watling), who is a dancer, and Lydia (Rosario Flores), who is a bullfighter/Marco’s girlfriend. The two men continue to talk to the women in the hopes that they will wake up, but revelations and accusations of rape lead to severed ties between the quartet.

Hable con ella (Talk to Her) is Almodovar’s crowning achievement, mixing all of his themes and elements into a graceful masterpiece, while also winning the director an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. It is an exploration of gender roles, vegetative states, and narrative ellipses that are told beneath the veneer of body language. It is a sublime masterpiece that not only showcased Almodovar’s maturation, but also displayed his humanity as a director.

Author Bio: Jose Gallegos is an aspiring filmmaker with a B.A. in Film Production/French from USC and an M.A. in Cinema, Media Studies from UCLA. His main interests are the French New Wave, Left Bank Cinema, and Spanish Cinema under Franco. You can read his film reviews at and view his film poster collections at



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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


      • 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.

    • Would agree with you on “Volver” and Penelope Cruz – she’s awfully good. I’m interested in what you say about his portrayal of trans women. Taken literally, yes, they can be viewed as stereotypes, but as a gay male I read this differently, as camp: emotional extremes, pathos and bathos; and he displays the strange gay male fascination, almost adoration, of the female, or maybe more correctly, the exaggeratedly feminine. I think that is Almodovar’s sensibility and it’s like a gay in-joke. Drama!

      But since you pointed it out, I can totally see how this approaches shallow exploitation / sensationalism with trans women as nothing more than a kind of emotional eye-candy… all I can say is that, for a certain “old-school” gay male, the emotionally overwrought female character is the flame to his moth; and her hysterical acting out doesn’t cheapen her, in his mind: it elevates her.

  • Vik

    Talons Aiquilles?

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