One of the most celebrated contemporary Spanish filmmakers, a director who has interestingly managed to marry popular success and auteurist prestige.
Pedro Almodóvar is a highly prolific director, who has managed to maintain a steady stream of film releases, most of which have been produced by the company he runs together with his brother Agustin (El Deseo).
In keeping with the narrative conventions of the genres he is usually exploring, Almodóvar often privileges intricate plots in which coincidence and chance play a significant part. The focus is often placed on queer identities and on the performance of gender.
Sexuality in his films is portrayed as eminently fluid, families are often dysfunctional, relationships are unorthodox and complicated, often involving more than two people, and the stories are laced with references to literary and art works, as well as to other films (intertextuality). In addition to references to other works, Almodóvar has also been known to reference his own films (for instance, his 2009 film Broken Embraces references his earlier 1988 film Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown).
Visual design is central to his films and he is widely considered to be a fashion-conscious director, who pays meticulous attention to set and costume design, often marked by his characteristic flamboyance.
One of the genres within the framework of which Almodóvar frequently works is melodrama (often combined with comedy and/or a crime story). Melodrama is one of the most studied genres in the history of cinema; amongst the scholars who have written on the topic are Thomas Elsaesser, Stanley Cavell, Barbara Klinger.
Most scholars discuss melodrama with reference to its expressivity, its ability to elicit strong emotions through its style (in particular, through mise-en-scène and the use of music – in fact, melodrama is often defined as a ‘dramatic narrative accompanied by music’), but also in terms of the moral universe it typically articulates, one that is polarised around victims and evildoers. Typical plots may include stories of star-crossed lovers, forced marriages, crimes of passion, tortuous and tense family relationships and situations, stories of injustice and maltreatment etc., which allow themes such as redemption, innocence, disillusionment, guilt and the clash between individual desires and social pressures to be examined in depth. Oftentimes, melodramas feature virtuous heroines who suffer sexual and/or emotional aggression at the hands of a villain.
Thomas Elsaesser, ‘Tales of Sound and Fury: Observations on the Family Melodrama’, in Landy, Marcia (ed.) (1991) Imitations of Life, pp.68-91.
‘… when in ordinary language we call something melodramatic, what we often mean is an exaggerated rise-and-fall pattern in human actions and emotional responses, a from-the-sublime-to-the-ridiculous movement, a foreshortening of lived time in favour of intensity – all of which produces a graph of much greater fluctuation, a quicker swing from one extreme to the other than is considered natural, realistic or in conformity with literary standards of verisimilitude..’ (p.76)
At a later point in his essay (p.83), Elsaesser comes back to this strategy of ‘letting the emotions rise and then bringing them suddenly down with a thump’, causing a ‘vertiginous drop in the emotional temperature’ which he considers to be central to the emotional experience afforded by many melodramas and which we can see at work in Almodóvar’s melodramas too.