Who would have suspected back in the 1970s that the scruffy and rebellious young Spaniard — director of immoral movies, with as many fans as critics — would become world famous, with two Oscars, two Golden Globes, nine Goyas, a retrospective at MoMA, an honorary membership in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and a juror’s seat at the Cannes Film Festival in 2017?
The history of movies has put Pedro Almodovar on the throne he deserves. That’s what Nat Chediak, the co-founder of the Miami Film Festival and director of programming at the Coral Gables Art Cinema, suggests in his introduction to “Almodovar: The Top Ten,” a festival of 10 films that runs Friday-Aug. 9.
“There’s no greater joy for a film programmer than to come across a totally original filmmaker,” Chediak wrote. “Such was my elation at discovering the films of Pedro Almodóvar and programming them — for the first time in the U.S. — starting in 1984, year one of the Miami Film Festival. Today, he’s not only the most celebrated Spanish filmmaker, but one of the world’s greatest directors, period.”
Almodovar’s debut coincided precisely with a film of resistance — an echo of La Movida Madrileña, the counterculture wave that pushed for freedom of expression and the demolition of social taboos — that helped to restore Spain’s soul after the Franco regime ended in 1975. In the face of such profound political changes, a film like “Pepi, Luci, Bom, And Other Girls Like Mom” (1980), was an exploration of that alternative movement, of punk aesthetics, that revealed his early interest for the seedy comedy, the carnivalesque, radical feminism and the scatological.
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From that time on, Almodovar’s films started to fill their shape, based on aesthetic principles that attract attention because of their decidedly personal style.
Starting with the very name of his production company — El Deseo, or The Wish — which he founded with his brother Agustin, we can perceive the common denominator of most of his movies. I refer to that permanent investigation of human nature and interpersonal relations which highlight issues such as love, promiscuity, jealousies, betrayal, family and death. In this sense, the titles of his first movies were eloquent: “Labyrinth of Passion” in 1982, “Dark Habits” in 1983, “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” in 1984, “Matador” in 1986, “The Law of Desire” in 1987 and “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” in 1989 .
By the 1990s it was clear that Almodovar was a fan of the melodramas from the 1940s and 1950s and bizarre humor, mixed with film noir and all this taking place in domestic situations, Freudian deliriums, meandering screenplays and his growing tendency to direct leading actresses such as Carmen Maura, Chus Lampreave, Verónica Forqué, Rossy de Palma, Bibi Ándersen, Victoria Abril, Marisa Paredes, Cecilia Roth and Penélope Cruz. He discovered some of them, putting their careers among the international stars.
There’s a long list of movies that prove it. “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” from 1989, “High Heels” from 1991, “Kika” from 1993, “The Flower of My Secret” in 1995, “Live Flesh” in 1997 and “All About My Mother” from 1998. They always included commentaries on small-town life, autobiographical references, the omnipresence of the mother figures, fathers who were cross-dressers or transsexuals, and an endless list of extravagant situations.
If you go
“Almodovar: The Top Ten” will run Friday to Aug. 9 at the Coral Gables Art Cinema, 260 Aragon Ave. For more details, consult the theater’s website, gablescinema.com. All About Almodóvar: A Conversation with Nat Chediak will be at Books & Books, 8 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 7, at 265 Aragon Ave.