Cannes Film Festival is just about to begin, which will introduce an impressive selection of films competing for the Palme d'Or and Grand Prix award. What makes the 70th edition of the most acclaimed European film festival even more exciting is that Oscar-winning director Pedro Almodóvar has been named president of the jury, becoming the first Spaniard to be given that honor.
The prolific director has had six of his films shown at Cannes throughout the last two decades, winning the best director prize for All About My Mother (1999) and best screenplay for Volver (2006). Even though his films are exclusively in Spanish, that doesn't stop them from getting worldwide recognition from both critics and the audience. What is so appealing and unique about Almodóvar's films that makes everyone who has seen at least one always come back for more? I'll try to break down the director's trademark characteristics in five key points.
1. Every Genre Is His Genre
"The problem is that I work in more than one genre. It's impossible for me to aim for a single one because, for me, comedy is mixed with tragedy. That's very Spanish, the way in which comedy and tragedy are inextricable from each other."
Transferring his eclectic taste into movies turned out to be a big creative success. There are no boundaries in Almodóvar's stories; the viewer is often surprised by the way in which the story is developing. Also, his films are a great example of how the art of filmmaking is all about freedom of expression and having fun while creating amusing plots and characters. This blend of genres is evident in every period of the director's career — the early love stories mixed with provocative eroticism and political statements, to his newer films that contain mystery, thriller, black comedy and horror elements. No one incorporates romance and suspense as skillfully as Almodóvar, resulting in emotional romantic thrillers like Broken Embraces or mystery melodrama Volver.
2. His Memorable Female Characters
"I feel that I can tell a richer and more entertaining story with women."
It's not just that he puts women in the spotlight as main protagonists, Almodóvar makes them believable and goes well beneath the superficial explanations of what drives a character to act the way she does. Penélope Cruz, one of Almodóvar's favorite actresses, praised him as someone who perfectly understands the female universe and makes women feel protected, and that is why she enjoys collaborating with him. This ability stems from director's childhood experiences; he explained many times that he grew up surrounded by powerful, strong women.
During the promotion of his latest feature Julieta, the Spanish filmmaker criticized Hollywood for sexism and not creating enough complex roles for women of all ages. On the other hand, some of his critics say he focuses on women too much, while his heterosexual male characters seem questionable and incomplete.
3. His Visual Style
Almodóvar's filmmaking style may not be everyone's cup of tea, but no one can deny that he has an amazing eye for details and using colors as an important addition to storytelling. Quirky characters are not based solely on their dialogue and expression; the visual representation means a lot in how the viewers interpret their actions. Take Lucia from the black comedy Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, whose mental instability is emphasized by over-the-top makeup and costumes, turning her into hilarious, almost grotesque character.
Almodóvar has never been afraid of using "too much" color; he openly flirts with elements of kitsch, evoking traditional Spanish culture but in a modern, progressive environment. Through years of making movies he learned how to control those exaggerated visuals in order to improve the film's plot, and has continue to employ bright colors through clothes, makeup, lightning, a chair, a telephone, etc.
A trademark of his work is the use of red, which is directly connected to his Spanish heritage, but also draws attention to specific details, creating a tense atmosphere that works so well in front of the camera. One of Almodóvar's most successful international features, All About My Mother, is the best illustration of the power of red. Here, it represents strong, bold women and their life stories as they deal with broken relationships, love, motherhood, friendship, loss and more.
4. He Breaks Taboos
Just as much as he doesn't run away from colors, the Spanish filmmaker also doesn't stray away from the unusual and hidden aspects of human nature. Apart from that, he creates space for characters who were, in most cases, pushed away from the mainstream — the homosexuals, transsexuals, transvestites. Ever since his debut 1980 film Pepi, Luci, Bom, Almodóvar has been promoting artistic, individual and sexual freedom, questioning the social conventions and tackling stereotypes.
It is impossible to forget elements like Gael Garcia Bernal's transgender character Zahara and dealing with sexual abuse in Bad Education, the deconstruction of identity in All about My Mother, challenging mother stereotypes in Volver, getting involved with the creepiness and obsessions in The Skin I Live In, or experiencing painful feelings of guilt in Julieta.
Another important element of his films is humor born out of unexpected, absurd, or generally considered tragic situations, showing the importance of context. An example of this is the rape scene in Kika, or the suicide attempt in High Heels. Despite these chaotic events, the viewer continues to form emotional bonds and show empathy towards the fabulously eccentric characters, and that is what makes Almodóvar's work authentic.
5. His Choice Of Music
It's no secret that films in general wouldn't be nearly as exciting and touching if they weren't accompanied by music, so it's no surprise that Almodóvar doesn't leave anything to chance in this department. He carefully chooses songs by his own preferences and is often led not by the artistic quality of music, but its references and emotional value. Original soundtracks for his movies have become hits of their own thanks to collaboration with talented composer Alberto Iglesias. Some of Almodóvar's films are so strongly connected to their soundtrack that after watching them, we automatically connect actors and characters with a certain song, proving the music is inseparable from the narration.
When I think of the closing scenes of Talk to Her, I immediately hear the music and picture the dancing couples gliding across the stage. The most recognizable scenes have become so popular precisely for their musical intervals, like the incredible tunnel scene from All About My Mother, which stays with you long after you've seen the film, or Penélope Cruz owning that melancholic musical scene in Volver. For me, the most memorable — not only for its music, but costumes and incredible acting — is Gael Garcia Bernal's costumed stage performance in Bad Education.
Are you a fan of Pedro Almodóvar's work and colorful, dramatic worlds he is creating? What is your favorite film and which characteristics do you find the most engaging? Adding your own opinions to this list would be very much appreciated!