According to Wikipedia, Pedro Almodóvar won’t turn 65 until tomorrow, but the IMDb (along with the Berlin radio station I tuned into this morning) is celebrating today, so we will, too. If, in mid-August, you were summering and missed it, you might start with the conversation recorded for Criterion that Kent Jones and Wes Anderson have had about Almodóvar, his work and his collaborators.
In 2011, Slate‘s June Thomas revisited the entire filmography, posted an annotated, ranked list of 18 features and noted: “Some motifs recur so frequently that I feared for my sanity…. If Almodóvar has an agenda, it’s the gospel of perseverance. That’s the message of his films’ frequent scenes of transformation. Putting on special clothes (a priest’s surplice, the bullfighter’s traje de luces, the female impersonator’s padding and wig, a nice dress) or makeup (13 of the films show someone primping in front of a mirror) can provide a new identity, and with it a second chance to connect.”
Two years earlier, PopMatters beamed its “Director Spotlight” on Almodóvar, posting, naturally, another annotated list, but also Matt Mazur‘s interview, Jaime Esteve‘s piece on how Almodóvar, the man and his work, have been received in Spain as opposed to how he’s perceived in the rest of Europe and the US, J.M. Suarez on Almodóvar’s women, Courtney Young on the “pansexual oeuvre” and Alex Ramon on Almodóvar’s repeated allusions.
And let’s go back another two years, to Daniel Mendelsohn, writing for the New York Review of Books in 2007:
The very titles of the early work have a hysterical or camp edge: What Have I Done to Deserve This? (1984), Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990), High Heels (1991), and, most famously, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. It comes as no surprise that the director’s earliest champions in this country were to be found among urban gay men, who were also enjoying, during the mid- and late 1980s, a newfound sense of political power and social visibility—and, of course, were feeling no little anxiety as well. Because a kind of hyperactive ebullience mixed with an edge of hysteria was the hallmark of Almodóvar’s early style, too, the appearance, back then, of a new Almodóvar film felt to many of us obscurely like a confirmation. This perfect concentricity of the films’ style and their historical moment no doubt explains why those early films, celebrated as being so gratifyingly “fabulous” at the time, feel today a bit overwrought—a bit dated.
In the later films, Mendelsohn finds an “emphasis… on intense feelings that somehow do not lead to seduction, murder, and suicide…. The newfound emotional subtlety and technical restraint that you get in these films seems connected to a deeper appreciation of women than was previously evident… It is surely no coincidence that the most disappointing film of the director’s recent period, the overwrought and overrated Bad Education… has almost no female characters at all…. Almodóvar’s finest film, All About My Mother, is in fact exclusively about women, of all kinds: young, old, successful, troubled, confused, strong, weak…. It is tempting to see the shift from the world of (gay) men to the world of (mostly straight) women as parallel to another, larger evolution that occurs in the movie, and in the work overall—the abandonment of melodrama for something at once subtler and more emotionally profound.”
On October 17, the Grand Lyon Film Festival, Bertrand Tavernier, Thierry Frémaux and the Institut Lumière will present this year’s Lumière Award, the sixth, to Almodóvar “for his intense passion for the cinema that nourishes his work, for the generosity, exuberance, tolerance, and audacious vitality he brings to the screen, and finally, for the fundamental place he holds in the culture and history of both Spain and Europe.”