Pedro Almodovar’s Julieta promises a return to form from the Spanish master of melodrama, Getintothis’ Del Pike looks back on his illustrious career and speculates on the potential success of his latest venture.
This month heralds the arrival of Pedro Almodovar’s latest addition to his long-running canon of typically melodramatic, Spanish sagas.
Julieta is his first film in three years and promises to have the usual elements of family drama, steamy passion, and strong female leads. Not for the first time, Almodovar has based his film on a piece of fiction from a female writer. Alice Munroe is the source material here and the film is based on three short stories from her 2004 book Runaway.
The adaptation focuses on the life of Julieta, a mother, who intent on re-establishing a relationship with her long-lost daughter, embarks on a soul-searching journey into her past. Told largely in extensive flashbacks, the characters are strong and attractive women, the staple of many an Almodovar film.
With every new Pedro Almodovar film comes a sense of anticipation. The style of his work has changed dramatically since his low budget slices of sleaze that crept into our conscience in the early 80s.
An extensive run of his early movies ran over a short season at Liverpool’s 051 cinema in the early 90s and this writer was there for them all. It was an education, a baptism of fire almost, into European film that alongside the films of David Lynch made me want to immerse myself in cinema for the rest of my life.
Within those early films of Almodovar burns a passion that is difficult to find elsewhere, sordid tales with a sometimes moral heart. His early experimental short films have been described as pornographic at best – high on sexuality / low on narrative and it wasn’t until 1980 with Pepi, Luci, Bom that he could lay claim to making his first full length feature.
It is interesting that from such sleazy beginnings, Almodovar has formed such an intense understanding of the female psyche and gained a large female following. Through his portrayal of Spanish women comes a lush depiction of Spanish culture that can only come from his own experiences growing up. The cemetery scene at the start of 2006’s Volver, a technicolor vista of Spanish women decorating headstones is beautiful and typical of Almodovar’s eye for culture.
As with all of his early period films, Pepi, Luci, Bom was a daring, explicit exercise in camp, bearing thematic resemblance to John Waters’ early work. The film gained a cult status and established his long standing working relationship with Carmen Maura. Almodovar would form many further regular relationships with his fiery female muses.
The Shock value of Almodovar’s early features were usually the main attraction, each film promised tantalising sex with an unlikely twist; Dark Habits (1983) with its convent setting and Matador (1986) with its hard scenes of sex and violence against the backdrop of bullfighting.
Almodovar’s early films were always full of dominant women, overtly camp gay characters and transsexuals, mixing with ease among killers and perverts. The style in which the director presented these tales made them seem almost normal in the 80s.
With Matador, however, the frivolity gave way to darker themes and also introduced Antonio Banderas to the fold, the now famous Hollywood actor and voice of Shrek’s Puss in Boots would craft his art through Matador and 1987’s Law of Desire. The brooding presence of Banderas would become his stock in trade and would lead to much-publicised relationships with Melanie Griffith and Madonna.
The director’s run of films between 1988 and 1993 that would include Women on the verge of a nervous breakdown, Tie me up! Tie me down!, High Heels and Kika would establish a golden era that would in some ways become the recognised blueprint of an Almodovar film.
Looking more like glossy advertisements than movies on occasion, these films would further cement his stock company of regular actors; but also place dominance on uber-strong female leads that challenge even Russ Meyer. Themes of dark sexuality would continue in scenes of bondage and fetishism, but the drama was at a high, mixing comedy and tragedy into a perfect marriage. These films were to bring
These films were to bring Almodovar his highest box office figures and with their vivid colour and glamour were easily marketed to British and American audiences. The posters for these films would be equally as attractive as his films, in their garish, exploitation style, touching on mass commercial imagery.
Almodovar would enter a third phase which he has remained in, to some extent, with little deviation. With The Flower of my Secret (1995), he would play down the glamour and fiesta of his previous work somewhat, and concentrate on a more controlled narrative.
These films have garnered him with critical acclaim and multiple awards and his visuals have developed into more beautiful and surreal sequences. Male characters have moved to the fore in films from this period, notably Javier Bardem as the wheelchair bound Policeman in Live Flesh (1997), an unlikely marriage of an Almodovar script based on a Ruth Rendell novel.
Live Flesh would also be the debut of his successful collaborations with Penelope Cruz. Cruz and Bardem would be reunited after starring together in Jamon Jamon (1992), directed by Bigas Lunas, possibly Almodovar’s closest rival in terms of creating audacious imagery in Spanish cinema.
All about my Mother, Talk To Her and Bad Education (1999-2004) continued to not pull any emotional punches in tales of sickness, paranoia, and abuse and further established the director as a serious filmmaker to be reckoned with.
But it was perhaps Volver with its standout performance from Cruz that set the bar; infusing all of the themes of his previous work to create a colourful, tragic, funny piece of drama that scooped more awards and became his most financially successful film to date.
The awards have kept on coming and once again it feels like Almodovar is evolving. Keeping the same style but moving into different unchartered genres,The Skin I live in 2011, essentially a remake of Georges Franju’s Eyes without a Face (1960) is his first all-out horror movie. Antonio Banderas would return to work with the director and once again, the film was met with nothing but praise.
In a step back to his earlier work, 2003’s I’m so Excited was a return to slapstick, character led comedy. Almost his own garish version of Airplane! This crazy overblown approach was met with a very mixed reception, one of very few films in his recent work to miss the mark.
There is a sense that based on reviews following the film’s release in Spain earlier this year that Julieta is a return to form. A secure Almodovar mix of strong female leads and intense family drama is the perfect antidote to the high camp of his previous feature.
Despite critical acclaim, the film has fared badly at Spanish cinemas (the worst opening of an Almodovar film in 20 years) and this has been linked with the well-publicised story of Almodovar and his brother Agustin’s links to an offshore law firm. He has denied any knowledge of his brother’s dealings but has apologised all the same. Its failure to ignite could also be down to the poor reception of I’m so Excited.
Ignore the controversy and see the film, there is always much to enjoy in an Almodovar picture; Julieta has been compared to Hitchcock and International reviews have praised the film as another classic in the Almodovar mould.
FACT will be hosting a special preview on Sunday, Aug 21 and the film will go on general release on Aug 26.