Those who know his work well will know that Almodóvar has experienced commercial and critical success in equal measures. An artist who has evolved, and arguably mellowed, over the decades, what hasn’t changed is the humanity with which Almodóvar saturates his characters.
A special screening of the filmmaker’s latest film Julieta opened The Museum of Modern Art’s film department’s PedroAlmodóvar career retrospective in late November. Told mostly through memories, the title protagonist, a damaged middle-aged woman, reflects on her loss of the two great loves of her life, her husband and her daughter. Wracked with grief and guilt, a victim of circumstance and an accessory in her own dilemma, Julieta is by no means pitiful. She is human.
Historically, Almodóvar’s predominantly female leads have been novelists, every-women and necrophiliacs. The one key red thread is that all are drawn humanely. Even the criminals who feature in his films are typically treated with empathy.
Remembering that Almodóvar, an “out” director, came of age during a time of double repression – Franco’s fascist Spain and the repressions on LGBT people – it is fascinating that he, who knew marginalization and repression intimately, never indulges or engages with sentimentality. Instead, he invites us into the lives of “the other”.
His empathy has undoubtedly increased over time, even as the frequency of Almodóvar’s more controversial characters have decreased.
Still, none of his characters “get it right.”
Still, none can quite perform the social roles assigned to them.
It’s hard to think of another filmmaker who has evolved in the same way. Since first moving to Madrid in 1967 to become a filmmaker the director, screenwriter and producer has tiptoed further and further into more mainstream popularity having helped launch the careers of Penélope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, and Javier Bardem.
Plenty of filmmakers go from maverick to mainstream. But it’s hard to name too many living directors who have deepened their core sensibility and maintained such a high level of artistic integrity even as they have matured and evolved. It’s rare.
Pedro Almodóvar makes his audience feel for “the other”. At a time where marginalization is rife and human empathy is undoubtedly lacking he deserves to be celebrated.
There is no one like Almodóvar.