Tag: pedro almodovar


Julieta (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★

Based on three short stories by Alice Munro, “Julieta,” directed by Pedro Almodóvar, is likely to frustrate viewers because it dares to end right at the climax. However, audiences with discerning eyes and minds will recognize that this astute decision exactly fits the material’s themes involving broken relationships and longing. It shouldn’t end any other way.

Followers of Almodóvar’s work may feel a bit disappointed because gone are the usual pavonine displays of primary colors or colors that complement one another. We do encounter his signature style of employing the color red to highlight an object, a living space, or an emotion, but this technique comes across as out of place, almost as a tool to get us to pay attention when there really is not much to see or even think about. Yet, again, I admired the filmmaker’s ability to play with expectations, even daring to alienate or render his niche viewers off-balance, because a feeling of disappointment and emptiness pervades the life of the story’s central character.

Emma Suárez and Adriana Ugarte play Julieta, the older and younger, respectively, and they command a fascinating way of being. Although the two may not look alike physically, they do share an air of vulnerability, almost a certain proclivity for sadness—which works effectively in dramatic scenes when secrets kept buried for years finally reach the surface. In Ugarte’s scenes, told in an extended flashback, there is a feeling of neediness to her, kind of like a wounded bird you’d want to take home and care for. In Suárez’s scenes, which take place in the present, she balances obsession and depression without playing extremes. We believe that the aging woman is the young woman we’ve come to know in the past.

As expected from an Almodóvar picture, there is generous use of closeups. This is a filmmaker who loves images of women—faces of women, to be exact—even if the characters, or the performers, do not look their best. The wrinkles around one’s mouth, dark shadows under one’s eyes, the asymmetry of one’s face—these make the characters’ histories all the more convincing; the more worn they look, the more we believe that they’ve lived the lives being portrayed. Sometimes the appearance of polish in a drama might as well be a physical wall between the audience and the characters.

The driving force of the film is a question: What are the circumstances that lead to Julieta’s crippling loneliness? Some might suggest that the story is about a mother and daughter’s separation. While this is partly true, it fails to encapsulate what’s already inside the lead protagonist before she had her daughter, that sadness already growing within her that makes us not want to look away. There is a reason why the title is simply called “Julieta” and Almodóvar’s hands create a stunning portrait of a woman on the edge.

I’m So Excited!

I’m So Excited! (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

Peninsula 2549 is a plane on its way to Mexico City. A virgin psychic, Bruna (Lola Dueñas), goes inside the cockpit and tells the pilot and co-pilot (Antonio de la Torre, Hugo Silva) that she senses something big will happen on the flight—that it will be a special day for everyone. She is told a little secret: aside from the folks in business class, the pilots, and the three gay stewards (Raúl Arévalo, Javier Cámara, Carlos Areces), everyone else is drugged in order to prevent a panic—the plane has been flying in circles for some time. There is something wrong with the landing gear and so the plane must land in a special way. They are currently looking for an airport that can accommodate their predicament.

Written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar, “Los amantes pasajeros” is a disappointing misfire. The comedy being as light as a cloud is not the issue. The problem is that the screenplay has no interesting or original story to tell. The film, however, works as a hit-or-miss sketch. Some sections are riotously funny, a few are worthy of chuckles, and some fall completely flat, lifeless, boring.

I am convinced that even Almodóvar was aware that the material lacks a special something in order to keep it afloat, so to speak. So, he makes us sit through subplots that feel completely forced. One that stunned me because it is so out of place involves an actor (Guillermo Toledo) who calls his suicidal girlfriend. For a while the picture puts us on the ground but it serves no point. Are we supposed to learn something about the actor? The women he loves? Is the idea of romantic love being satirized? Because the approach is so broad, the message or the point, if any, is vague and confusing.

Even one character who is potentially interesting—because she is so unpleasant—fails to entertain. Norma (Cecilia Roth) acts as though everyone else is beneath her. On top of that, she is paranoid, dominating, and yet she can be open given enough… inspiration added to her drink. Although she talks a lot, there is only one thing that is surprising about her. Even the bit of surprise is not worth the wait.

The focus of “I’m So Excited!” should have been on the crew. One of the funniest bits involves the three fabulously effeminate stewards performing a dance to The Pointer Sisters’ “I’m So Excited.” They are so lively and out there that I felt like I was having a great time in a Vegas cabaret show (while I’m intoxicated). Why can’t the rest of the movie have that level of ferocity? The Almodóvar that I am used to is someone who constantly pushes the envelope and knows what works on screen consistently. You know what would have made that scene funnier? If the actors actually sang the song. I would not have cared if the singing were bad. It would have been a bigger risk and taking risks is what great filmmaking is about.

I also enjoyed some of the jokes about sexuality—bisexuality, to be exact—between the pilot and co-pilot. I think Almodóvar wishes to comment on how we, as a society, are so willing to subscribe to a label that by doing so, sometimes it prevents us not only from having a good time and being open to experiences but also from finding happiness. There is a minute trace of seriousness behind some of the jabs and they would have had more impact if the writer-director did not prescribe to making a light comedy from end to end.

Live Flesh

Live Flesh (1997)
★★★ / ★★★★

Isabel (Penélope Cruz), a prostitute, is in labor and a friend (Pilar Bardem) opts to help her deliver the baby on the bus while on their way to the hospital. The newborn is named Víctor. Twenty years later, Víctor (Liberto Rabal) calls from a pay phone outside of a drug addict’s apartment. Elena (Francesca Neri) declines to allow him to come up because she cannot remember agreeing to go on a date with him a week prior. Still, Víctor finds a way to get in. A gun is fired and the neighbors call the police.

David (Javier Bardem) and Sancho (José Sancho) are summoned to investigate the call. While Víctor and Sancho wrestle for the gun, David turns away from the scuffle to tell Elena to run downstairs. The gun goes off.

Based on a novel by Ruth Rendel and directed by Pedro Almodóvar, “Carne trémula” is an elegantly constructed story about obsession. Víctor is obsessed with Elena but he is not the kind of creep who sneaks into her house and steals memorabilia for his shrine. He is charming on the outside but holds a darkness within. The kind of things he considers valuable are of his memories with her. Since he can take those memories wherever he goes, images of her face, her body, and her quirks constantly bounce around in his head.

His actions are driven by this obsession. After being released from jail, he decides to volunteer at a children’s center that Elena helped to finance because he knows that sooner or later, she will have to come in and interact with the staff. Since he cannot be with her, given that she has married David during his years of incarceration for shooting a cop, being around her will have to do for the time being.

Sex is never used as a product of, or through an act of, love. Rather, it is used as a means to an end and a catalyst that highlights the broken part of the characters. For example, initially, David and Elena look like a perfect fit. While in prison, Víctor, raging with jealousy, watches them hug and kiss on TV. But when David is shot in the back, the bullet severs his spine and the injury leaves him unable to move his lower limbs. As a result, David and Elena are not able to have a normal sex life.

He gives her oral sex and she is able to experience pleasure, but a woman needs every part of a man–physically, emotionally, psychologically–to be fully fulfilled. Elena is not fulfilled. If David is not able to tell, and a fool he is not, that is because Elena goes on great lengths to hide it. That is when Víctor comes in. The way I saw it, Elena considers him as the reason why she cannot be fully happy with her husband even though she loves him–and he loves her–dearly. At the same time, she sees Víctor as a person who she knows is messed up in the head but is able to give her his all.

Almodóvar is melds disparate emotions and psychology to make intricate patterns about human behavior and desires without coming off as forced or one note. There is an excellent scene when David visits Víctor to warn that he ought to away from Elena. Víctor asks, in a mocking way, what David is going to do if he does not. The husband punches the stalker where it hurts, but instead of exploding into a fight, the two end up cheering together because their fútbol team scores a great point on TV. Even though the two are opposite forces on collision, the scene puts them on common ground.

“Carne trémula,” also known as “Live Flesh,” is in control of its themes. Its assured direction anchors the abrupt changes in our sentiments toward the people on screen as well as the characters’ opinions of one another. The answers are never easy or predictable as our feelings for another person does not reflect that of a straight line.

Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!

Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990)
★★★ / ★★★★

When Ricky (Antonio Banderas) is released from a mental hospital, he makes it his goal to find Marina (Victoria Abril), a former pornographic actress hoping to break into the film industry, and start a family with her. Though he finds her on the set of her first movie, she fails to realize that they had met some time ago and shared a one night stand. The encounter leaves Ricky confused and frustrated so he decides he has no choice but to break into the actress’ home and keep her there against her will until she starts to reciprocate his feelings.

Written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar, “Átame!,” explores Stockholm Syndrome through an alternating comedic and dramatic lens. On one level, it is fascinating because Marina learns her value by being in control of a man. She does not value herself not because she starred in pornographic movies–after all, a person must go through whatever means to survive–but because she knows she is addicted to cocaine, aware that it is bad for her, and yet she continues to put the poison into her system. By spending time with Ricky, as twisted as it is, she feels loved: love outside of her fans’ adoration and love outside of family attachment and obligation. Through this intense, charming figure, somehow she learns to love herself.

On another level, it is interesting to watch because Ricky is not someone anyone can easily root for either initially or at all. We must not forget that he hits her multiple times and ties her up to the bed every time he has to run an errand. No one should condone violence against women but, surprisingly, what they share works because the writer-director has found a way to get the film’s message across with enough clarity and insight relative to the rules it sets up for itself.

Abril and Banderas are dangerous and sexy together. I loved looking at Abril’s face because it seems to transform under a specific light combined with a specific emotion. Her face reminds me of the fire in Juliette Binoche’s prototypical characters when they are threatened and the tenderness in Sarah Michelle Gellar’s when they are showered with flattery. The bizarre couple’s one and only sex scene holds a certain irony. Marina is pornographic star but the love scene is far from pornographic. Also, it is well-placed within the film’s arc because it is the moment when we are able to see clearly that Marina has fallen for her captor. The way she asks, nay, commands him not to pull out as they share an intense orgasm, normal for any couple with a healthy, two-way sex life, is almost romantic. I say “almost” because we do not forget how their relationship is forged.

However, I wished that two supporting characters had more time on screen: Lola (Loles León), Marina’s sister, and the drug dealer on a Vespa (Rossy de Palma). Both are strong women who know what they want and when they should come and grab it. If the two of them had been more developed, it would have been more obvious that Almodóvar does not condone violence toward women.

“Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” is kinky, daring, and unapologetic in terms of the images and implications it puts out there. The final scene in the car when a song is sung is cathartic and moving yet open to interpretation. It dares to leave us hanging.

The Skin I Live In

The Skin I Live In (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

Dr. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) was a renowned plastic surgeon whose wife’s body burned in a car crash while trying to get away with her boyfriend (Roberto Álamo). Robert transported Gal home and took care of her for months, but when she saw her reflection on a window, she jumped out because she couldn’t bear living with her teratoid appearance. Since the tragedy, we learned that Robert had been performing experimental skin treatment on Vera (Elena Anaya). Although artificial, it was resistant to burning and insect bites which was promising for the scientific community. However, Robert’s colleagues were led to believe that he had been experimenting with mice, not on humans. “La piel que habito” had plenty of ideas about how anger and grief could drive a person into trying to achieve something so radical, it threatened to destroy him. The picture was most fascinating when it allowed the camera to observe the surgeon’s work sans dialogue. I liked watching him navigate his hands with precision while cutting a piece of skin and applying it onto his model. When something went wrong, he maintained his composure and consistently found a way to work around the problem–a quality that also served him well outside the lab. By observing his routine, though shot with cold detachment, we learned a lot about his experiment and how invested and desperate he was to make the seemingly impossible a reality. The film held a lot of secrets about identity. The most curious was Vera and why she lived like a prisoner. While it made sense that she lived in a relatively contained environment because her skin was being replaced, there were some red flags that grabbed (or should grab) our attention. For example, she wasn’t allowed any visitors, never handed sharp objects, and there were writing, like tallies of dates, on the walls of her room. If she was a voluntary patient, why was she considered a danger to herself? Pedro Almodóvar, the writer-director, did a solid job on keeping a lid on what was really happening. The less information was available for us to put the pieces together, although I felt a bit of frustration due to its unhurried pacing, the more I felt compelled to think of increasingly ridiculous hypotheses. One of the most interesting characters was Marilia (Marisa Paredes) who, to Robert, was just a trustworthy longtime maid, but was actually his biological mother. I loved looking at her face, the way she moved across the room, and why she was convinced that Robert ought to kill Vera. Marilia provided another layer, if you will, to the story. I just wished that she had been used more. The most critical opportunity that the film lost was not relating its story deeply enough to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and his creature. Marilia was Robert’s creator and Vera was Robert’s. Instead of looking to the future and exploring the repercussions of the surgeon’s transgressions, the screenplay went back in time about halfway through and gave us images of what happened to the wife and daughter. While it was necessary for us to know, several lines of dialogue would have sufficed. Based on Thierry Jonquet’s novel “Tarantula,” “The Skin I Live In,” wonderfully shot even without Almodóvar’s usual primary colors, could have used less family history and focused more on horror that came about from ignoring certain moral obligations.


Heartbeats (2010)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Francis (Xavier Dolan) and Marie (Monia Chokri) were best friends. They relished vintage fashion, enjoyed watching classic films, and quoting respectable poems. But those weren’t all they had in common. When they met Nicolas (Neils Schneider), a curly-haired blonde with a bone structure of a Greek god, the foundation of Francis and Marie’s friendship was tested. Written and directed by Xavier Dolan, “Les amours imaginaires” told its story through the senses. Slow-motion shots were prevalent for a reason. Francis and Marie’s rivalry was mostly shown in an insidious manner. It was only natural that two friends would hide their jealousy from one another to avoid hurting each other and themselves. The slow movement of the camera magnified the little things like a fake smile or a judging look. It also highlighted the pain when reality did not meet one’s expectations. For example, when Francis and Marie greeted Nicolas at a party, Francis noticed that Nicolas hugged Marie for much longer. Francis tried to play it off as if it was nothing but we knew better. The slow motion revealed to us the many questions in his head. Did the Adonis adore Marie more than him? Dolan’s use of bold colors was quite Almodóvar-esque. A scene shot in which red reigned supreme suggested fiery passion, perhaps even obsession. Green signified jealousy as Francis shared a bed with another man knowing that Nicolas and Marie were probably having a good time together. Lastly, I felt the need to point out the lack of a gratuitous sex scene. I admired that the material remained true to itself. The relationship between the trio wasn’t about sex. It was about the longing for someone who may or may not be willing to reciprocate. The fact that the writer-director chose to explore the funny, awkward, painful space between the three characters instead of allowing them to get together sexually proved to me that he was confident with his project. However, what I found less effective were the scenes that involved broken-hearted romantics who pondered over men and women who hurt them. I felt like I was in group therapy where no one made sense. Instead of relating to them, I ended up somewhat disliking them. Most recalled waiting for someone they were interested in and the person being late for over thirty minutes. It was suggested that they felt used waiting when the relationship ultimately didn’t go anywhere. If I was supposed to meet someone for the first time and he or she was thirty minutes late, that person could forget about it. I was there on time so I wouldn’t place the blame on myself. Either those scenes should have been excised or someone should have criticized their way of thinking. Despite its weak miniature intermissions, “Heartbeats” pulsated with creativity. I was addicted to its beauty.

Dark Habits

Dark Habits (1983)
★ / ★★★★

“Entre tinieblas” or “Dark Habits” was about a singer (Cristina Sánchez Pascual) who retreated in a convent because her boyfriend passed away after she provided him drugs. The singer believed that she was safe in the convent but little did she know that nuns (Julieta Serrano, Chus Lampreave, Carmen Maura, Marisa Paredes, Lina Canalejas) harbored secrets such as drug addictions, obsessive-compulsions, a tiger in their garden, and that one of them fell in love with her. This was far from the strongest Pedro Almodóvar film because it was too colorful but it did not have an ounce of substance and the way the story unfolded was too all over the place. Potential scandalous storylines were present but I did not feel as though the director exploited the characters’ strengths and weaknesses. Instead of challenging the characters by putting them in situations they were not used to, the characters were stuck in their own worlds and it felt like time went by so slowly because the comedy came few and far between. When the ironic scenes arrived, unlike Almodóvar’s sharper projects, I merely chuckled instead of laughed. I would have been into the story more if it had taken its time to focus on each nun and her relationship with their new guest. It was obvious that they saw her as a light of hope because prior to her decision to stay in the convent, the ennui of every day slowly killed their spirit. The only dynamic relationship in the movie was between Pascual and Lampreave’s characters. They were different from one another but shared a big commonality: They wanted to live a life that was free and they believed that the first step to achieving that goal was to leave the convent. The power in the scenes they shared was above their eccentricities and that’s when the picture felt alive and interesting. Almodóvar obviously wanted to expose some of the hypocrisies in terms of devout individuals, which I thought was fine because he respected his group subjects, but I wished he moved beyond the one-joke premise and defied our expectations half-way through the film. It desperately needed a change of tone in its half-way mark because it straddled the line between annoying and soporific. In the end, “Entre tinieblas” did not work for me because I saw its potential to become so much more enjoyable if it had more focus and acidic scene of humor. However, I think fans of Almodóvar should still watch the movie (there are familiar elements here that contributed to his later work) to see how masterful he has become as a filmmaker over the years.

What Have I Done to Deserve This?

What Have I Done to Deserve This? (1984)
★★ / ★★★★

Pedro Almodóvar wrote and directed “¿Qué he hecho yo para merecer esto!!” or “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” which was about a mother named Gloria (Carmen Maura) who felt suffocated being around her family in a small apartment. Her husband (Ángel de Andrés López) was mean to her despite trying her best to show him undeserved affection, her mother-in-law (Chus Lampreave) was overbearing, one of her sons was a drug dealer (Juan Martínez) and the other slept with much older men (Miguel Ángel Herranz). Gloria only found bits of happiness while being around her friend who happened to be a prostitute (Verónica Forqué). This was not one of my favorite Almodóvar pictures despite its confidence to tell a story that was different (the story also involved a telekinetic girl who lived one floor above the family of interest) because it spent too much time with side stories instead of really honing into the lead character’s condition. Only toward the last thirty minutes did we have a chance to realize how truly miserable Gloria was and what great lengths she would go to escape a family who did not appreciate her sacrifices. No doubt that the material had intelligence because I did notice certain trends such as scenes in which people always asked Gloria for a favor but when it was Gloria who needed help, everyone was too involved in their own problems that they wouldn’t even look at her in the eye. Either they wouldn’t/couldn’t help her or they would help her but their behaviors were almost passive-aggressive and lacked any sort of gratitute. Those scenes moved me because there were times when I felt exactly the way she did. What did not work for me were the scenes involving the husband making some sort deal about certain forged documents. I did not quite see what the relationship was between that scheme and Gloria’s struggle in the home. The family had financial issues but I felt like Almodóvar was hinting at something deeper than pecuniary issues yet it didn’t quite come together in the end. The bit about the girl who had the gift of telekinesis also failed to impress me because I felt like it was more like an obligatory quirk instead of something that felt natural to the storyline. Quirkiness is a quality I love in Almodóvar pictures because they work most of the time and they highlight certain trends and double entendres. In this movie, that certain quirk fell completely flat and it was distracting. However, I’m still giving “¿Qué he hecho yo para merecer esto!!” a slight recommendation because it ended at such a high note. When Gloria finally got rid of all the people who made her unhappy, did she successfully escape a period of misery or did she simply created another prison for herself? It was a poignant last ten minutes and I wished the rest of the film was just as insightful and affecting.

The Flower of My Secret

The Flower of My Secret (1995)
★★ / ★★★★

This film did not look or feel like it was completely directed by Pedro Almodóvar. It was a little too straightforward in its storytelling so it made me feel uncomfortable. “La flor de mi secreto” or “The Flower of My Secret” told the story of a writer (Marisa Paredes) who published her novels under a pseudonym because she valued her privacy. Only her best friend (Carme Elias) and a few others who were really close to her knew the truth about her career. Sick of writing romance novels especially since her marriage was on the rocks (her husband played brilliantly with cold disregard by Imanol Arias), she decided to write for a newspaper and was assigned to write critiques of her own novels. There were some excellent scenes in this movie such as the lead character’s interactions with her frustrated sister (Rossy de Palma) and stressed out mother (Chus Lampreave), when the lead character received a lecture from her publishers about why they couldn’t and wouldn’t publish her new novel that was dark and edgy (the description of the events in novel was very amusing because it sounded like something Almodóvar would make into a movie), and the scene with her husband in which it showcased how lonely the lead character truly was in terms of not having someone that she could be fully be open to whenever she felt like lowest in her life. However, there were many scenes shot outdoors, especially in the beginning, that were supposed to be funny but fell completely flat. Those scenes looked too commercial and they didn’t have Almodóvar’s signature use of extreme colors, they lacked tension, and given that they were taken out from the movie, the end product would have been the same. Such scenes felt like fillers and they quickly wore out their welcome. I understood that perhaps Almodóvar was trying to do something different with his style but I felt like he didn’t have complete control of the material when he was experimenting. The best scenes in the film had focus on the relationship between the main character and the women in her life and how they helped each other move past seemingly insurmountable emotional challenges. I think more scenes with the eccentric family would have benefited the movie greatly because de Palma was simply electric. She wasn’t in the movie much but every time she was on screen, I was drawn to her and I noticed the subtleties in her body movements. And in a way, the family reminded me of my own relatives because even though we get under each others’ skins, there’s a lot of undeniable love between the awkward silences. I liked “The Flower of My Secret” because it did have fantastic moments. However, I’m not sure how forgiving most people can be if they are not familiar with Almodóvar’s colorful and bold repertoire.

Law of Desire

Law of Desire (1987)
★★★ / ★★★★

Written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar, “La ley del deseo” or “Law of Desire” was about a young man in his twenties (Antonio Banderas) who became obsessively in love with an older director (Eusebio Poncela) despite the fact that the director was in a relationship with another young man (Miguel Molina) who wasn’t fully comfortable with the relationship. The picture was also about the director casting his transgendered sister (Carmen Maura) on his play, only the play was based on her struggles about coming to terms with her identity. I think this is one of Almodóvar’s most uneven work but I loved it nonetheless. Although it got distracted from time to time when it tried to introduce unnecessary characters (like the nosy mother, the two cops, and to some extent the little girl who believed in her prayers coming true), the theme of feverish passion was always at the forefront. This is probably one of my favorite performances from Banderas because even though he was essentially a stalker, he found a way to make his character sympathetic. His character’s passion toward the director was fascinating to watch because of the way the passion eventually bubbled over, caused a flood, and changed everyone’s lives. I also loved Poncela and Maura because they shared a different kind of passion: a strong bond between two dysfunctional siblings. They may collide from time to time due to their varying interests and untold family secrets but I could always feel their love for one another; it was a nice feeling and a great contrast between the kind of bond between Poncela and Banderas. Even though “Law of Desire” didn’t quite have Almodóvar’s cheeky use of bright colors and music that jumped out of the screen, the extreme melodrama involving mistaken identities was still there and it was able to keep delivering the sort of energy I love from start to finish. Like Almodóvar’s other works, “Law of Desire” was willing to go places where most directors don’t dare go; the shock value was there (especially during the movie’s opening scene) but it’s not the kind that makes us feel bad about ourselves. It’s the kind that makes fun of us for liking what we’re seeing and wishing it wouldn’t stop. The little twists that the picture had felt natural because the characters were borderline histrionic so the twists didn’t feel like a gimmick. “La ley del deseo” may not be one of Almodóvar’s most focused movies in terms of the fluidity of storytelling but it is one of his most satisfying.

Bad Education

Bad Education (2004)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Pedro Almodóvar is one of my favorite directors because he is often willing to take bold risks. Instead of feeding his audiences Hollywood typicalities, he tries to reinvent the formula by challenging us to see movies in a different way. In his film “La mala educación,” two childhood friends (Gael García Bernal, Fele Martínez) who fell in love with each other in Catholic school crossed paths after sixteen years of separation. Enrique was experiencing a drought of ideas for his next film so Ángel offered Enrique a story that was half non-fiction (based on their childhood) and half fiction (when they eventually reunited). The only thing Ángel wanted in return was to play the lead character because he desperately needed work. The first time I saw “Bad Education” (which was around 2005) I didn’t completely understand it because it was essentially a dynamic exercise of perspectives. Back then I didn’t have the experience to really hone in on what was really going on underneath the scenes that Almodóvar painted for his audiences. But after becoming more familiar with his work and other movies that may have influenced his techniques, I am convinced that “La mala educación” is one of his best movies to date. The funny thing (and what I love most) about Almodóvar is he pretty much uses the same basic elements in all of his pictures: bright colors that hint on what we should feel and/or what the characters really feel despite their self-delusions, bittersweet irony, awkward camera angles, mistaken identities, razor-sharp dark comedy and eccentric characters willing to go through great lengths to keep certain secrets hidden. What impresses me is he (arguably) just shuffles things around, makes tiny tweaks here and there and voilà!–a new Almodóvar film is born. But what makes this picture one of his best is every scene has a certain focus and confidence so each one contributes to the big picture. In about an hour and forty-five minutes, the director was able to elegantly construct a web of deceit with characters who had questionable morals yet we couldn’t help but care for them because we knew their backstories. Bernal was simply electric. His character is the kind of character I love to watch and dissect because every decision he made had a purpose and would ultimately most benefit himself. He appeared charismatic on the outside but he was capable of great subterfuge. That element of film noir completely enraptured me and I didn’t want the experience to end. “Bad Education” is not the kind of movie one will fully understand in just one sitting. Anyone who claims to have understood everything about it is either lying or has completely missed the point. I highly recommend “La mala educación” for its feverish passion to tell a very personal story which expertly balances ambiguity and complexity. Don’t get distracted by the drag queens and sexual positions because those elements are just half the fun.

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988)
★★★ / ★★★★

“Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios” or “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” showcases how fearless Pedro Almodóvar can be as a writer and director. After Pepa (Carmen Maura) was left by her lover (Fernando Guillén), she decided to kill herself by eating gazpacho mixed with heavy doses of sleeping pills. However, her suicide attempt was interrupted when her friend (María Barranco) knocked on her door for help after realizing that she was involved in terrorists who wanted to hijack a plane. And while Pepa was gone and her friend was left to guard the apartment, a couple (Antonio Banderas, Rossy de Palma) knocked on the door to decide if they wanted to rent Pepa’s place. Everything about this movie was so absurd but it was so much fun to watch because it was incredibly unpredictable. And what’s better was the fact that it was easy to tell that the actors were having so much fun in their roles. As much as the movie was comedic on the outside, it really was about the connections between the quirky and eccentric characters unique to Almodóvar’s world. Having seen Almodóvar’s recent works from the 1990s to the 2000s, it was easy for me to recognize certain motifs such as the use of color, strange coincidences and strong women willing to fight for what they believed in. In relation to the last bit, I was in love with that scene when one of the characters discussed the relationship between understanding bikes and understanding the psychology of men. I thought that scene summed up the picture with such elegance because the story was essentially about four women obsessing over men and the outer and inner conflicts they had to go through to be loved in return. My main problem with this film, however, like in a lot of Almodóvar’s movies, was its pacing slowed down a bit somewhere in the middle. But I think it’s only a matter of taste that one can get used to over time as one watches more movies from the director. It’s not at all difficult to be enveloped into the story because the lead character was always doing something purposeful and she was willing to engage in conversations that were witty and sometimes confrontational. A lot of people may think “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” was over-the-top but that’s what makes a great farce. It’s like watching a telenovela with characters that range from harmless but annoying to dangerously psychotic. It was definitely campy but it had a creative postmodern romance that I rarely see (and would like to see more) in cinema these days.

Broken Embraces

Broken Embraces (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

“Los abrazos rotos” or “Broken Embraces,” written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar, was about a blind writer named Harry Caine (Lluís Homar) who began to tell a story about a love affair he had in the 1990s with a beautiful actress (Penélope Cruz) to the son (Tamar Novas) of his agent/manager (Blanca Portillo). The affair was riddled with sneaking around, feigning emotions, and spying because the actress had a boyfriend (José Luis Gómez) who eventually became aware of the situation with the help of his gay son (Rubén Ochandiano) who had a penchant for the videocamera. When I dive into an Almodóvar picture, I expect melodrama, complex storytelling, interesting use of camera angles, vibrant colors, and passionate characters. On that level, I strongly believe that the film delivered. However, it didn’t quite exceed my expectations. I think this is the kind of film that requires multiple viewing on my part because there were times in the picture where I found myself confused with what was happening (notably the middle portion). Although it eventually started coming together toward the end because certain characters stopped holding onto their secrets, it didn’t change the fact that I had to take myself out of the experience for several seconds to figure out where everybody else stood. That lack of flow was the main reason why I didn’t quite love “Broken Embraces.” I admired that this film strived not to fit into one genre. Sometimes it was comedic, sometimes gloomy but there were times when it was thrilling; the director’s use of shadows and the way he used the build-up of tension were very noir-like (particularly the stairs scene–a definite stand-out) and almost Hitchcockian. “Broken Embraces” was teeming with ideas. If the director made a film from each genre he tackled, I’d be interested in watching them as well. I was fascinated with how the characters became so engulfed in their passions to the point where they weren’t even aware that they were ultimately hurting themselves. I couldn’t help but get into the lives of the characters because each of them had passion in their eyes and the way they expressed themselves via body movements. Each of them had a purpose and none of them was a simply caricature. I could feel Almodóvar’s passion for filmmaking in every frame. I just wished that he made sure that the audiences could follow his vision without a significant amount of mental acrobatics because there was already a lot going on.


Matador (1986)
★★★ / ★★★★

I’ve seen Pedro Almodóvar’s work from the late 1990s to the present and have been nothing but impressed so naturally I became interested in seeing his older projects.”Matador” stars Antonio Banderas as a 22-year-old aspiring matador who was working under Nacho Martinez’ wing. When Martinez’ character asked Banderas if he was a homosexual due to his lack of experience with women, Banderas tried to prove his masculinity by trying to rape his mentor’s girlfriend (Eva Cobo). Eventually ending up in jail due to some strange coincidences and choices, a femme fatale lawyer (Assumpta Serna) came running to defend Banderas’ innocence. I love Almodóvar’s films because no matter how much I try to guess what would happen in the story, I always guess incorrectly. He has such a knack for telling unconventional stories that are funny, witty, tragic and ironic often all at the same time. The way he uses color to highlight a character’s fate or what he or she might be feeling and thinking always takes me by surprise even though I’m familiar with his techniques. I also was fascinated with the way Almodóvar used his characters’ occupations as a reflection of what they were really capable of when they think nobody was watching them. Admittedly, the writing can get a bit melodramatic at times but I think that’s half the fun of Almodóvar’s movies. He’s not afraid to reference to the supernatural, such as a certain character experiencing “visions,” to possibly make sense of the natural world. It’s the twists and turns that keep us wanting to watch. Like in most of his later projects, “Matador” was very passionate (or obsessive?) about sexuality–not necessarily sex–how his actors moved and delivered certain lines. Another element that I thought was interesting was the fact that Almodóvar used sex and violence as a backdrop to explore the darker side of human nature. The characters in this film were not necessarily good; in fact, they were far from innocent. But we root for some of them because the protagonists were capable of less evil than their counterparts. I wasn’t sure at first if I was going to enjoy Almodóvar’s earlier works but after watching “Matador,” I’m more than excited to see them. I just hope that they have the same level of vivaciousness, drama and sensuality as this picture.