Pepi, Luci, Bom and Other Average Girls

Homage to Pedro Almodóvar

Awards aside (he has won two Oscars, five Baftas, two Emmys, six European Film Awards, two Golden Globes, nine Goyas and four prizes at Cannes) Pedro Almodóvar has proven to be one of the most important directors, screenwriters, producers and intellectuals of postmodernity.

He has become a global icon for his unique cinematic language, creating a pastiche of different genres where melodrama, American comedy, French noir, thriller, neo-realism and even horror intermingle. His work is often inspired by directors like Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Douglas Sirk, John Waters, Jean-Pierre Mevlille, John Cassavetes and Luis Buñuel where on many occasions they even surpass the original. Always with an exquisite pop and camp mise-en-scene and a hyper sentimental soundtrack where boleros, rancheras, punk, jazz, and flamenco shine eclectically.

But if Almodóvar is overwhelming in his aesthetics, he is no less so in his characters and themes. Almodóvar’s filmography is full of powerful female characters; the term “Almodóvar girl” has been coined for him by popular culture. In his films there is a woman who is always strong, supportive and capable of friendship or love. These women had been played by Penélope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Victoria Abril, Chus Lampreave, Rossy de Palma to name a few. With these Almodovarian women, the director has achieved beautiful and deep reflections on passion, destiny, family and identity while dissecting with humor and elegance the Spain of his time. He has spoken to us about Catholic education, gender violence, historical memory, the economic crisis and political uncertainty.

But if there is a theme that has been at the forefront of his work, it is Desire, an irrational drive with dramatic consequences. This yearning is so essential to the director’s cinematic language that he founded, together with his brother Agustín, a production company called El deseo, from which all the films of the author and other authors such as Isabel Coixet and Lucrecia Martel have been produced since 1987.

Through desire I wanted to differentiate in a personal way the different stages of the director’s cinema:

– The Subversive Desire (1980 – 1987): cinema framed in the context of “La Movida Madrileña”, a cultural movement that begins right after the death of the dictator Franco; the end of censorship and the beginning of a modern democracy and that means a change of values in Spanish society. Almodóvar’s cinema is highly provocative in its content and provocative in its means. With a very low budget, Almodóvar shoots his first film: Pepi Luci y Bom y otras chicas del montón (1980), a work that the festival has chosen to pay tribute to the director. The film combines scenes of sadomasochism, lesbian romances and alternative culture. From this period we can highlight Laberinto de pasiones (1982), ¿Qué he hecho yo para merecer esto! (1984) and the first film produced by his own production company, La ley del deseo (1987).

– The Carnal Desire (1988 – 1997): Pedro directs films of raging passions, while perfecting his form and achieving international success, including his iconic and hilarious Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (1988) and Átame (1989).

– The Identity’s Desire (1999 – 2006): A stage in which the author’s own search for identity and his relationship with his homosexuality and motherhood is obvious. Also in this period the plots of his films gain dramatic complexity while his national and international prestige reaches the zenith of his career. From this period are his masterpieces: Todo sobre mi madre (1999) and Hable con ella (2002).

– The Introspective Desire (2009 – present): in this last phase Almodóvar’s cinema moves away from the provocation of the beginning of his career and approaches a bitter and solemn classicism as with Julieta (2016) and Dolor y gloria (2019).

Undoubtedly, Almodóvar continues to cause a cyclone with each film he releases, and no wonder, because his cinema transcends the cinematic. Our lives are Almodovarian: the patterned wallpaper in your favorite coffee shop, the coolest earrings in the store, a zebra-print zippo, a winter in Madrid, the song that makes you cry and the one that makes you scream your head off in the car, Valentino red lips, the disco with pink fur, our friends and sisters, the tragic of a breakup over the phone, my dildo. We experience our lives as if it had already happened in an Almodóvar movie. We live and want to live in one of his films.

Lucrecia Martel dedicated these words to him in her speech at the awarding of the honorary Golden Lion in Venice in 2019: “Long before women, homosexuals, trans women, got fed up en masse with the miserable place we had in history, Pedro had already made us heroines” and it is that Pedro gives, and hopefully for much more, meaning to our lives.

Daniel Sánchez López

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