Tuesday, October 03, 2006


A strange thing happened when I went to the cinema on Sunday; for the first time in at least 10 years I found myself enjoying a film directed by Pedro Almodóvar. I always had mixed feeling about his films, but I think it was the day I saw Carne Tremula that things really took a turn for the worse. Normally I like to give every film a chance, and you can't do that without enduring at least 45 to 60 minutes; in the case of Carne Tremula I think I broke that rule, it's a truly awful film.

Since then, I haven't seen anything by Almodóvar that is so bad, but at the same time I was irritated by the acclaim for Todo Sobre Mi Madre and Hable Con Ella. Not that either film was badly made, far from it. It was mostly the use of tragic themes which, to me at least, require a certain seriousness of treatment (such as the rape of a hospital patient in a coma), but which ended up just being the backdrop for a collection of exotic characters without ever really attempting to tell much of a story. Also, his sulky behaviour when not receiving the tributes and prizes in his home country that he is used to receiving abroad, helped to accentuate my negative image of his work. I didn't even bother with La Mala Educación, the previous film to Volver, and it has taken me several months - and some persuasion - for me to finally get round to his latest work.

This time around, I can say the film was worth it. Volver is partly set in La Mancha, the region that Almodóvar originally comes from. It tells the story of the relationship between two sisters and how they cope with the discovery that the mother they thought had died in a fire is not really dead at all. The film, typically with this director, has enough events taking place to fill a whole series of your average soap opera. It also mixes the modernity of the scenes set in Madrid, with a nostalgic vision of life in the villages of La Mancha, where the wind provokes fires and a higher than average level of madness in the inhabitants. However, the only windmills we see in this territory are the giant electric turbines which are slowly covering an ever great extent of Spanish countryside. I think part of the attraction of Almodóvar internationally is that he presents a vision of Spain which scarcely exists anymore, but which connects to ideas that foreigners have about the country.

The presentation of village life is not the only nostalgic part of the film, several times I was reminded of Spanish films I have seen from the 1960’s – the moment when Penélope Cruz “sings” is like something taken straight from a film made 40 or 50 years ago. Cruz plays Raimunda, the stronger of the two sisters, and she is now seen as old enough to portray the mother of a teenage daughter. The role of her mother is played by Carmen Maura in her first film for a long time with Almodóvar. The male characters in the film are bit parts, and not very attractive bit parts either, the film is really about the women and their struggle for survival. One of the highlights for me was a devastating parody of a reality TV show, one of these that depends on exploiting the suffering of those invited to participate.

The film is Spain’s nomination for the Oscars this year, hardly an unusual situation for this director. Whilst I enjoyed it, I hope it doesn’t win the Oscar for best foreign language film, it’s not such a strong contender that there can’t be a film out there somewhere in the world that does more to deserve the international recognition that comes from winning these prizes


madrid teacher said...

Can´t agree with you on Almodovar I actually don´t like any of his films. watch Los borgias if you get the chance

Graeme said...

I'll put it on the list, but the list is quite long at the moment so I'll have to start going to the cinema more often.