Sunday, August 27, 2006

All Almodovar, All Month!

Beginning September 1 and for the rest of the month, the Castro Theatre will be part of Sony Classic's celebration of Pedro Almodovar by presenting the retrospective "Viva Pedro!". (This also coincides with the release of his latest feature "Volver", which opens after the retrospective.) The series includes 8 of his features, several of which I was able to attend previews of, and most of which I have either in my collection or seen recently enough to remark upon. Mind you, this is perhaps my SIXTH draft in wanting to remark on this collection! I feel sure that there will be textbooks devoted to Almodovar's work, if there isn't already. As I started thinking about these films, I found myself spiraling deeper into his artistic psyche. The man's a genius, and my few words here do not do him justice! However, in the spirit of my 'review caplets', I forge on...

The films will be screened in this order:

"Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" (1988)
"All About My Mother" (1999)
"Talk To Her" (2002)
"The Flower of My Secret" (1995)
"Law of Desire" (1987)
"Live Flesh" (1997)
"Bad Education" (2004) and
"Matador" (1986)

(It would have been convenient, though fiscally irresponsible, to run these in pairs, however each film plays on separate nights.)

The series opens with "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" (1988) I can't believe it's been almost TWENTY YEARS since I saw this! It was as if the 'next Fellini' had been discovered and brought to us, though he had been making films for over fourteen years by that time. It holds a naive charm to it, in that it is possibly his most out right farce. The campiness that has been associated with it, is really only in the production and costume design, not so much the performances, though Julieta Serrano's performance as the hysterical and nearly psychotic wife does touch that line. Ironically, this screenplay is possibly the least ribald or erotic of the set of films in the series. It takes a special artist who creates a farce that is the safest vehicle in his catalogue!

"Women..." is followed by "All About My Mother", which is probably his most mature and sober work. This will be a nice contrast actually, as you can observe how he is with his performers. The contrast of the screenplays are also remarkable, in that what might have been nearly chauvinistic in "Women..." becomes quite devout in "...Mother". It is perhaps the most sincere of the films I have seen of his. The performances are all quite naturalistic and shy away from the theatricality that seems to pervade most of his work. Of course for this reason, though I appreciate it, "...Mother" is not my favorite of his films.

My favorite in this series, would be what is screening last:

"Matador" is HOT! It's kinky, suspenseful, gorgeous, quirky and... HOT! It features a very young Antonio Banderas, playing perhaps one of his most complicated roles, or at least, it is one of the most sophisticated screenplays he has been associated with. The film portrays characters obsessed with bull-fighting, sex and death, and an other-wordly connection that brings all of it together in its climax. It was the first film in a long time where I never really knew where it was leading me, but I just held on for the ride.

Almodovar seems to like linking sex and death, or near death in an almost misogynistic fashion. "Talk To Her" is perhaps his most extreme example, as he leaves his women in a comatose state, where they are THEN loved. The women are gorgeous, yet to love them could prove fatal. It's a recurring theme in many of his films. Pedro is a cinematic tango artist. There is always passion, and that passion teeters on danger. There is always danger, however subtle. I think the appeal to me is that he is unafraid in placing his characters in exceptionally dangerous situations - emotionally, physically and sexually. Some of his edgiest and most fantastical work precedes "Women...", i.e. "Matador", and "Law of Desire". There is a thrill to watch Almodovar's quirky and accessible group of actors work their way through his perils.

Antonio Banderas and Carmen Maura, who appear in over half of the films in this collection, prove themselves to be Pedro's star chameleons. In seeing this so many years later, and recognizing Pedro's core company of actors, it's a wonder to see them evolve throughout the series. Maura stars in his latest release, "Volver" and just seeing her in the trailer, hints at an exceptional body of work. I can't wait to see it!

Viva Pedro!

1 comment:

Maxxxxx said...

re "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown": "Sweet, sweet eye juice!"
re "All About My Mother": Chirp!!
re "Talk To Her": "Is it bedtime?"
re "The Flower of My Secret": "Breakfast!"
re "Law of Desire": "Such a pretty bird!"
re "Live Flesh": "Brrrrring!"
re "Bad Education": "Such a good bird!"
re "Matador": "Sweet, sweet eye juice!"