To What Extent is Almodóvar’s Representation of Post-Franco Spain Accurate?
Info: 10948 words (44 pages) Dissertation
Published: 11th Nov 2021
Tagged: Film StudiesHistory
The aim of this dissertation is to examine the cinematography of Pedro Almodóvar, to outline which aspects of his films represent Post-Franco Spain accurately. Almodóvar over the past thirty years has been known for creating an image of ‘New Spain’, he has created a vision of Spanish society during the delicate transition to present day. By focusing on La Movida, the themes, plots and characters portrayed in his films, as well as the locations that are used throughout, this dissertation will aim to create a base for primary research opening new perspectives as to whether this representation is a true reflection of Spain.
General Francisco Franco had a 36-year-rule, during this period of time a certain set of rules and values were promoted. After his death there was a liberation among Spanish society, and the country undertook a transition to democracy. This had a large impact on the creative arts. An artistic movement known as La Movida broke out in Madrid, and one of the well-known leaders of this time was Pedro Almodóvar, who has made a wide range of films.
As Almodóvar is referred to as one of the directors that not only to have emerged from this movement, but also known widely to capture it. Almodóvar is a director who has avoided genres traditionally associated with realist representation for the most part. There is a lot of pre-existing analysis and theories about his radical films focusing on different ideas, such as how he represents “New Spain”, visual culture and national identity. However, I have not found much work that highlights what aspects of his films are reality and what is fiction.
This dissertation endeavours to find to what extent was Almodóvar’s representation accurate by analysing a wide variation of his films and exploring themes that were particularly considered taboo during this period in Spain. This dissertation will primarily focus on his earlier work, including films such as: Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del monton, Entre tinieblas, Laberinto de passion, La ley del deseo, Matador and Que he hecho yo para merecer esto? But also making reference to his later work throughout, to allow a visualization of how it captures the drastic changes in Spanish society.
His earlier films show the earlier stages of the transition therefore give a better insight into the radical changes that were taking place in Spain.
My methodology has been literature based, after commencing broad reading, these are now my most important findings: (books, interviews). In order to answer my question, I have watched all of the director’s films, and made a coding analysis answering the same set of questions for each film – giving me both quantitative and qualitative data. I have considered using questionnaires/interviews however I’m not sure how useful this would be as it is not a commonly known topic. Thus, finding candidates and I don’t think it would have been useful for my research.
Almodóvar is one of Spain’s most controversial and successful directors. Since his first feature film in 1982 he has been renowned for ‘representing Spain’ and creating a ‘new image’ of what the country looked like. For the past thirty years he has been visible and predominant filmmaker not only in Spain but all across Europe.
La Movida Madrilena emerged in Madrid. The director is considered one of the main leaders of this socio-historical trend, and he was first known for his outrageous films depicting the radicalism and social transgressions of these times.
On the 20th of November 1957, Francisco Franco died. In the wake of this his death there was an explosion of pop culture and a backlash of all the values that had previously been promoted. Previously censors had been used as an intention to force acceptance of his military dictatorship. He used film as a visual language to impose the methodology of his regime and all opposing views were banned. Films that were screened in Spain contained no negative influence on issues such as religion, prostitution, divorce or adultery. This was a time of immense change for Spain, a lot of social changes took place and these same underlying values were portrayed in Almodóvar’s films.
After Franco’s death traditional ideas of order, nation, patriarchy, family, machismo and gender roles were being challenged in many films. Almodóvar questions all of these values, especially with reference to sex and gender roles. The director’s films are ripe with reference to this idea of what this idea “new Spain” looked like. He celebrates all those who were previously marginalized. In particular, he has a fascination with women, sex and drugs. He presents a world that is apolitical and amoral – his ensemble is a mixture of homosexual, bisexual, transsexual, doper, punk, terrorist characters that refuse to be ghettoized into diverse subcultures. His controversial work unapologetically dealt with topics such as rape, incest and paedophilia yet there were dark humours that set his work apart from others, like Kinki Films. A representation is defined by Oxford dictionary as: the description or portrayal of someone or something in a particular way. Thus Almodóvar’s films are reflective of the times but they are not documentaries (as said by himself).
Due to the nature, setting, themes and time of release, his films they are “representative” of the time, however objectively showing what he wants to be portrayed. However, as someone who is countlessly referred to as being at the epi-centre of La Movida and Spanish contemporary cinema, this thesis aims to explore how accurate this representation is, in terms of reality and what was happening during the transition to now.
When thinking about cinema, it is crucial to remember that visual art is tied to the socio-historical context of the country of which it emerged. Within a few years of Franco’s death, Spain had already changed so much that people who had not been in the country for a while were amazed at the differences. Admittedly, the transformation had begun years earlier, but the switch from dictablanda to almost full freedom, the tumbling of restrictions and taboos in day-to-day Spanish life was an eye-opener, even for Spaniards in the country.
Whilst Almodóvar ignores Franco’s existence and attempts to impose a new and dynamic society on his characters and audience, the memory of the past remains ingrained within society itself, and consequently within people who live in that particular society. Almodóvar’s recurrent vision is to clearly break free from the constraints and censorship that characteristically defined Francoism.
Chapter one will analyze his first feature film: Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del monton, placing it in the context of which it was made, La movida, and draw upon some of the aspects of the film that are considered to capture the essence of the movement, and what is fiction based.
Chapter two begins to look at the themes and plots that are explored in his films and will investigate which of the values we’re veraciously portrayed. As Spain’s rapid modernization was taking place, people we’re able to behave in a more liberated fashion. Almodóvar’s films explore themes previously considered taboo; drugs, religion, sex, etc. There was a general breakdown of the previous values that were upheld, some of these harsh depictions are factual, although it has been given a more theatrical depiction, as it is cinema.
Furthermore, Chapter three will draw upon a focus on people within the Spanish society, endeavouring to explore how people were affected in contrast to how they appear in his films. Within his work, he aims to disassociate from the patriarchal ideologies of Franco’s 36-year dictatorship that confined women to a role as a housewife and mother and therefore overtly challenges this tradition. Specifically, this area of the project will consider the way he represents women by drawing a contrast with some theories and views of how the life of women changed. Along with homosexuals, transsexuals and transvestites that he so openly features in his films. It will also draw upon the use of location as characterization links to the setting of the characters.
CHAPTER ONE: LA MOVIDA & THE EMERGENCE OF PEDRO ALMODÓVAR
Following Francisco Franco’s death Spain underwent a transition to democracy. After 36 years of being a country under extreme control with an intent to preserve traditional family and religious values, this delicate transition meant that Spain was facing political confrontations daily. The country was experiencing a cultural delay, lagging behind the rest of Europe. After his death the whole of Spain was affected, Spanish people, most notably those in Madrid particularly took it into their own hands to create a movement known as La Movida.
The phenomenon took place not only in Madrid but in other major Spanish cities such as Barcelona, Seville etc., in between 1977-1985. (donQuijote, 2017) Singers, bands, directors, actors and artists from all around Madrid collaborated to create one of the most unprecedented powerful movements ever seen. The city was euphoric, releasing a previously oppressed need for freedom of which the people had been yearning for. (Warner, 2015).
La Movida was a movement that represented the appearance of a new and marginal Spanish identity characterized by freedom of expression, transgression of the laws and the taboos imposed by the Franco Regime, the use of recreational drugs and a sexual revolution in which all sexual practices were considered and practiced. This movement, in addition to the cultural changes that had been occurring in Spain since the death of Franco was accompanied by a sort of filmic transformation described by Peter Evans as the re-politization of the film language in post-dictatorship cinema.
Evans states that during this time – the late 70s and 80s, film-makers “rush to speak the unspeakable”, and to the “spectacular return of the repressed”. (Back to the Future: 326).
Five years were to elapse after the death of Franco before anything like a new conclusive trend developed in Spanish cinema. There were many other influential and successful directors during this period, such as Fernando Trueba and Oscar Ladoire. Almodovar’s arrival in Madrid concluded with the emergence of a radical cultural movement, La Movida among Madrid’s margilena represented the decade of the gaudy and visible pleasures with which the director was so closely framed.
Almodóvar is considered one of the main leaders of this socio-historical trend and makes reference to the era as “It’s difficult to speak of la Movida and explain it to those who didn’t live those years. We weren’t a generation; we we’re an artistic movement; we weren’t a group with a concrete ideology. We were simply a bunch of people that coincided in one of the most explosive moments in the country”. (donQuijote, 2017)
It is crucial when analysing films to understand the personal background of the director, this is integral to understanding the wider context in which the films were made. The director boasted that he made films as though Franco never existed. Born in La Mancha, a region where he spent his formative years, represents the social milieu that would be the setting for some of Spanish cinema’s harshest depictions of rural life of this period. Films including Luis Garcia Berlanga’s comic but bitter attack on the backwardness of rural underdevelopment by the Franco regime, Bienvenido Mister Marshall (1952).
As a child of a traditionalist rural upbringing in a country run by a reactionary dictatorship, he was heir to the repressive culture of the regime and centuries. Old Spanish traditions of the counter-reformation from which Francoism drew much from its anachronistic ideology.
The spirit of Francoism was keenly felt in the rural world that shaped his early consciousness. Almodóvar’s geographical positioning is reflected in the narrative of his symbolic journey from the periphery, to the center of Spanish culture. This eventually led him to occupy the improbable position of representing not only Spanish cinema but Spain itself to the outside world. There have been many critics and scholars that have claimed that Almodóvar was representing Spain to the rest of the world.
This chapter aims to explore his first films in comparison to La Movida and Spain’s initial transition to a democracy. His generation experienced first-hand the contradictory transition from isolated Post-Civil war Spain to the government orchestrated economic modernization plan that inevitably brought with it cultural modernization.
There is a common refrain among Spanish film critics who assume a simple correlation between Almodóvar’s roots in rural Spain during the second decade of the dictatorship and his later cinematic sensibilities: “The situation the country lived through during the years of his childhood would determine his way of making films and viewing life” (Colmenero Salgado 17).
Maria Antonia Garcia de Leon and Teresa Maldenado argue that the insistent of Almodóvar’s origins in La Mancha is intended to emphasize an environment of poverty, social backwardness, economic underdevelopment, and forced migration to other parts of Spain. His Manchegan roots would make him somewhat of an outsider among filmmakers who, by and large, were of comfortable middle-class backgrounds with the benefits of an urban cultural formation. (D'Lugo 5-12)
For Almodóvar “passion” enjoys a place of privilege. Despite his penchant for innovation and change, he had a strong emphasis on emotion and held the importance of friends and family in high regard, especially with his mother. He insisted a generalized performativity in which people are characters and artifice is a natural act which emphasises the unorthodox, marginal and alternative without losing sight of tradition, convention and custom. Almodóvar has worn this as a badge of honour, persistently noting that he only had himself and his family to train him in the world of fiction and cinema:
“Fiction for me comes from the world of the patio, my mother’s friends in the neighbourhood, my sisters taking sewing classes with their friends, the cats, the parties that would accompany the slaughter of certain animals, the Gypsies, the flamenco singers at the fair, the twist, the hanging from a grapevine of a still bleeding skinned rabbit, my mother chatting with the neighbours outside the door, in the open air of long summer nights. And the big screen of the outdoor movie theatre. And a thick wall, the only fetish to which I am faithful.”
“My mother was the territory where everything happened.” “I learned boldness from her, and something more: the need for certain doses of fiction so that reality can be better digested, better narrated, better lived… It was not a question of complacently accepting things, but of perfecting reality by adding a little bit of fiction.”
(Epps and Kakoudaki 410-411)
The context of the democratic revolution was the inspiration for narrative of his film, meaning that the fiction is somewhat based on reality. Almodóvar witnessed a Madrid that had already begun to break from the conservatism of the Old Spain. His experience mirrors in microcosm the post-Franco transition that began to shape during the final eight years of the dictatorship.
Within a year, Almodóvar had transformed himself somewhat from a provincial into “someone modern”. He was a phone company functionary by day who morphed into an alternative culture performer by night. The political transition to democracy was more closely rooted in contemporary social history and creativity than most of his subsequent filmmaking, these works present an urban milieu that embodies the geographical repositioning of Spain within modernity through the motif of the physical movement (La Movida) and the prodigious force of a new narrative centered in pop culture.
Though it is easy to read the plot of Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del monton, as a fragmented and chaotic expression of an emerging generation of disillusioned youth looking to foreign culture as a source of identification. The film is constructed as an affirmation of a series of “little narratives” of ruptures with in Spanish past and all forms of social authority. (D’Lugo:21)
It only seems logical, as it was the directors first feature film that emerged during in the movement, in this first chapter to analyze Pepi, Luci, Bom, y otras chicas del monton. It is said to have captured the essence and frivolity of the cultural movement. In spite of Almodóvar’s affirmations that “we had no memory and we imitated everything we liked” (Hart and Almodóvar, 1992) and “I make films as if Franco never existed” (Besas, 1985: 216), the film takes an unmistakably critical position against the dictatorship from which the country had emerged.
The Spanish press questioned the political stance of his films, although on the surface the plot line may appear frivolous, disjointed and ultimately trivial. At their core, lay a barely disguised interest in the social landscape and a stunningly original approach to the depiction of reality that engaged in unexpected ways with various aspects of the Spanish cultural tradition.
Almodóvar playfully defined Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del monton as a mixture of film noir and female centred pop comedy with reference to Igmar Bergman. Almodóvar also stated that: “If there’s any theme common to my films it’s striving for absolute freedom carried to the extreme and that may be a political dimension” (Besas 1985: 216-217). The directors ambition was exactly the essence of the movement and along with so many aspects of this film it indicates that it is in fact extremely reflective of La Movida. Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del monton was the director’s first film with success, it is based on those who live in underground Madrid, those who live on the periphery of the recognizable cityscape.
In the opening scene of this film a policeman knocks on Pepi’s door to confront her about the marijuana that she is growing in her flat whereby she offers him sexual favours for his silence. He ignores her offer and proceeds to rape her, and from here the plot unravels. Pepi is portrayed as a modern and independent woman who will not remain silent when confronted with macho, patriarchal power. Instead she seeks retribution. The film is a battle between the old order of dictatorship, epitomized by the policeman and the new subjectivity of a sexually socially progressive women who asserts her unalienable freedom.
As his first film, it doesn’t simply celebrate the new to reject the traditional – it establishes a clear link between the old and new forms of cultural expression as they collide in the streets of Madrid; forging new types of social interaction.
To carry out her revenge, Pepi offers the Botitoni her marijuana plants in exchange for beating up the policeman. To perform this act, the Bomitoni dress as ‘chulapos’ and ‘chulapas’ (the traditional Madrid outfit) and lure the policeman by singing the zarzula ‘La Revoltosa’. They play this traditional ‘costumbrista’ persona to entice and subsequently punish the repressive stand-in for Francoism.
Aside from the storyline the setting is also extremely representative of Madrid during the 1980s, it is shot in the Costus residence (the home of real-life gay painters of the movement) and ‘El Bo’ – both authentic settings and key locations of La Movida.
The movement was born out of self-consciousness; tired of being subordinate to the hegemony of New York or London. Artists and self-publicists in Madrid set out to create a punk style do it yourself culture in which home grown locations such as the Costus house which stood for better known antecedents such as the Warhol Factory. It is also important to note that most of the actors in the films were just volunteers or people that had been asked.
As the film was made on such a low budget. As Vicente Molina Foix suggests Pepi, Luci Bom was once historic and prophetic in this process. Both harked back to traditional forms (zaruela and ever picaresque) and pointed forward to the new marginal figures (such as Alaska) who were soon to be stars of the mass media.
The scene that seems most documentary: Bom’s band performs to an ecstatic audience a song called ‘Murciana’ (dedicated to Luci) ‘I love you because you’re filthy’ is how it begins. The band is presented how it was in real life, by drag queen Fabio or Fanny Mcnamara (A key figure in Madrid’s movement). (Smith, 2000)
The film suggests, the real question for Spaniards is not about the past but about modernity, which is often tied aesthetically to questions of representation. We may read the plot as a statement of the creative positioning’s for the artist is that effervescent world that would assume the name La Movida: the narrative frame of comics, the foregrounding of the Bomitoni and of Alaska as singer and Pepi’s career as a creative publicity writer.
Almodóvar replaces Spain’s recent political history with a self-conscious emphasis on the importance of performance as an expression of individual identity. (D’Lugo: 24) Within the narrative of the film Pepi wants to shoot a film based on the lives of her friends and she advises them that they cannot simply be themselves, they need to play their own characters. They are already a 44-year-old housewife and teenage punk, but they will have to play up to their roles if the spectator is to believe their relationship.
During this scene Pepi claims “Representation is always somewhat artificial”. (Smith, 2000) By now it has become critical common sense that cinema can somewhat reflect reality but also has the potential to shape and even create it. Stuart Hall speaks of “identity as constituted not outside but within representation”. He also characterizes cinema; “not as a second order mirror held up to reflect what already exists, but as that form of representation which is able to constitute us as new kinds of subjects, and thereby enables us to discover who we are”. (Zamora, 2016)
In an interview with Frederic Strauss Almodóvar explains the scene: “Pepi explains this in the film: when you want to shoot a kind of documentary about people you know and present them as characters, the very nature of this project implies a certain manipulation of your friends, of their true personalities. Pepi tells Luci that her natural presence isn’t enough to bring out her truth on screen.”
Almodóvar explains the thought process behind this scene: “This is exactly what interests me in cinema: cinema speaks of reality, of things which are true, but must become a representation of reality in order to be recognizable”. “I love the artifice which is a part of a director’s work.” (Almodóvar et al., 1996) Therefore, it contradicts his previous affirmations that his work is completely fictional, his inspiration and basis of the story is based on real life happenings.
One of the most crucial scenes of the film ‘The General Erections’, reflects to the documentary nature of Pepi, Luci, Bom and can be read as Almodóvar’s visual testament to La Movida, Madrid’s subculture, Spain’s modernity, and the hedonistic post-Franco youth. The theme of the party is to compete as to which male has the “biggest, most svelte, most inordinate penis” wins the opportunity to “do what he wants, how he wants, which whomever he wants”.
‘The General Erections’ scene suggests a heavy use of parody of the first general elections held in Spain in 1977. Spain’s political milestone, is thus accompanied by an assertion of sexuality and a utopian celebration of pleasure in his typically outrageous fashion. This blatant affirmation of pleasure of politics predates a broader trend of postmodernity and its reconfiguration of the political realm.
Although critics of the time attacked the film as Vulgar and ‘B-series’, other newspapers like El País praised the film as: “Truly disrupting the most respected taboos of our ridiculous society” (Lorante, 2017).
Alaska, who plays one of the main characters in the films disclosed to the Spanish Newspaper El Pais, an argument she had with the director because of the “chorro de creatividad”(meaning the lack of creativity). She also completely rejects the idea that this film can be at all documental of the movement, she claims that Almodóvar “mixed all off the worlds that he had in that moment of his life” and that “La grandeza de peliculas como Pepi, Luci, Bom and Laberinto de Passiones es que son verdad, verdad dentro de la ficcion”. Here Almodovar is inferring that the greatness and fiction in these films is drawn from reality. (El Pais, 2007)
Pepi, Luci, Bom is a film known for being frivolous and capturing the freedom of La Movida, however Patricia Godes states that “There was nothing fun about La Movida” and “The difference between what historical memory tells during those years and what I actually lived, is abysmal”. She elaborates by telling El Confidencial that “the truth is that La Movida was nothing but a big lie and reason to drink” (Prieto, 2017). Particia Godes and Alaska brings to light the idea that La Movida could have been presented in a positive light in the film, making to look more vibrant than it actually was.
This chapter points to, whether or not it was what Almodóvar intended for this film, it is a testimony to Madrid’s La Movida – and reflects the freedom that was needed after 40 years of oppressive dictatorship.
In spite of Almodóvar’s famous claims that his work is completely fiction, it is an immediate emblem of the movement for its idiosyncratic aesthetic and provocative topics. Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del monton propelled Almodóvar from underground role into a more visible cultural space. Critics such as Kathleen Vernon and Barbara Morris see Almodóvar’s early films as more than a simple document of la Movida culture history by asserting “both Pepi, Luci, Bom and Labyrinth of Passions constitute as a chronicle of la Movida as well as an almost utopian rendering of Madrid as a locus amonus, a space of infinitive possibilities” (Pavlović et al., 2008)
CHAPTER TWO: THEMES & PLOTS
After understanding the emergence of Pedro Almodóvar and La Movida, this chapter will analyse the plots used in his films.
As previously mentioned he is a director commonly known for “representing Spain”, so the following paragraphs will attempt to establish to what extent this representation is accurate, by outlining some of the recurring themes in his works.
The democratic condition of the Spanish state and its many cultures, languages and emerging artistic manifestations here consolidated with the election of Socialist Government in 1982. Many people saw these as important circumstances for the creation of a definitive democratic culture.
Spain’s rapid modernization and social, economic and legislative changed since the end of the dictatorship had a major impact on the social values, structures and patterns of behaviours. His work has evolved along with its creator and todays Almodóvarian universe is much more complex and refined. Although the basis of this thesis is focusing on Almodóvar’s earlier works, if you watch his films chronologically his work has evolved along with Spain.
This evolving process resembles that of an adolescent going through a phase of crisis in order to reach the plenitude of adulthood. Over the course of his films there is a change in men, women transvestites, drug addicts and outrageous rape scenes tend to fade away along the years. The need or desire to shock the audience gives way to a more peaceful universe ready to compromise and accept life as it is.
Of course, this represents the maturation of Spanish society itself, which has now reached a great level of self-confidence, which meant that the filmmaker no longer felt the need to present such taboo and outrageous plots. (Salmon and Matz 2012: p19)
Focusing on Almodóvar’s third feature film Entre Tibieblas, it covers so many themes that are presented along the discourse of the director’s cinematography. The storyline initially focuses on Yolanda Bell, a heroin addict and singer who goes into hiding when her boyfriend overdoses and passes away in her apartment. She is taken in by Mother Superior of the order of Redentoras Humilladas who is one of her most enthusiastic fans. Each of the nuns has a random obsession Sor Rata writes best-selling sensationalist sex romances under the name Concha Torres, Sor Vibora, in an amorous relationship with the convents chaplain, etc.
Drug forms the back-drop to this narrative of this film and is a common recurring theme along his films. The 80s was a very care-free time in Spain, a phenomenon which is constantly reflected in Almodóvar’s films. His constant exaggeration of drug abuse in his films, is an underlying notion potentially drawing attention to the rising problem.
Furthermore, he is in fact representing what he believes to be a rising issue in Spain at the time. This at the time of release was Almodóvar’s most mature conceptualization of the interrelation of story and characters to date, the interweaving of emotional and social crisis predominates.
One of the leading characters in the film, The Marquesa speaks bluntly of the difficult economic times that the country is going through, which will cause her to stop supporting the order and thereby provoke the narrative crisis that shapes the films plot. Yet this dramatic episode is only an external mark of a more profound drama that has already affected all the members of the religious community.
These women have come from Albacete to perform charitable work by providing a haven for young drug offenders, prostitutes and murderers. With time however it has become apparent that the nuns “good deeds” are as much a liberation for them from the oppressive, cloistered atmosphere of the provinces as they are a demonstration of Good Samaritans.
In this way, Almodóvar characterized religious faith as being at best, a convenient sublimation of individual desire, which in the context of the New Spain has become the catalyst for each women’s self-realization. The characterization of the community of nuns seems at first to be an easy parody of one of the pillars of Francoist culture; the ecclesiastic establishment. That impression quickly fades as we see the ways in which the women interact with the world outside the convent. Almodóvar’s explanation of that logic clearly alludes to the shifting nature of post-Franco society. (D’Lugo, 2006: 35-36)
So while the plot is wacky and very clearly based on a fictional story, the nature of the ‘free-ness’ is similar to that upheld during post-Franco Spain. It is the values and behaviours of the characters that more representative of reality.
Military and Catholic Church were instrumental during Franco’s repression – it was a key institution in shaping the model of the female under the Franco regime. Both public laws and church regulations, distant and formal relations between the sexes, and controls over expression of alternative views of women in the press, film, the mass media and other important social institutions. State laws with support of the church even prohibited divorce and abortion. Female adultery incurred a serious penalty meanwhile, male adultery which is also considered a crime, received lesser penalty. Religion was also polarized, which meant that even after Francisco Franco’s dictatorship Spaniards in general still upheld the same religious values.
As explained Entre Tinieblas uses a group of nuns as its vehicle. “The film is not just a parody of religious life” explains the director. The film isn’t quite as zany as his other films. Although he still maintains a mixture of odd characters, among the four spaced out nuns who keep a pet tiger in their back yard, smoke pot, inject drugs and embark upon a hundred outlandish activities.
The bizarre plot and ensemble of random characters leads us to assume that this is completely fictional story. However, it is something that would not have been allowed to air during Francisco Franco’s dictatorship. Although the director admits that the story is completely fictional, he also states that:
“There is evidently a parody of the life of a religious community, but far stranger things could happen in a convent; and in fact do… I wanted to show a religious community where works of charity are truly carried out and the nuns are against the police, where the nuns really care for those delinquent girls, and themselves become delinquent, taking their mission to the extreme. So in a sense the film is a serious one”.
Bringing this issue to light, is Almodóvar is suggesting here that he is trying to suggest to his Spanish audience that society has evolved since the Francoist era? Or that we really are unaware of what happens in convents? Or all religious people are not saints? “The paradox of the film is that these women have a religion, but not a religion inspired by god” (Vidal, 68-69).
So while the plot and use of characters are extremely eccentric, there are a lot of underlying values and themes being promoted in the film that are in fact extremely representative of the liberation that country was experiencing during this period. After the film was shown at the Venice and Miami film festivals, Almodóvar found himself involuntarily representing Spanish culture. (D’Lugo, 2006: 11)
Human sexuality is another theme that Almodóvar explores in his films. He took advantage of this new freedom and exposed these taboo subjects to these “virgin”, super-catholic, conservative Spanish audiences. Sexual desires of men, women, homosexuality, transsexuality, incest – are all themes that have been touched upon. He exposes these taboo subjects in a very humane way.
Through showing us that homosexuals are loving, caring human beings. He is able to combat the prejudices and stereotypes held by many, because of Franco’s strict values that had been imposed on them for nearly forty years. The underlying theme within this is desire.
Entre tinieblas hinges on the lesbian attachment of the mother superior to her protégée Yolanda and La ley del deseo is a thriller based on compulsive homosexual love and pursuit. But the apparent sexual ambiguity of these characters is more than mere whimsical game-playing. In line with his generally deconstructive approach to artificial categorizations. These representations are a means of subverting the traditional roles and patterns that shape patriarchal society.
Almodóvar’s characteristic appropriation of family melodrama challenges conventional configurations of the family to replace them with unorthodox alternatives such as the homosexual brother and transsexual sister partnership of La ley del deseo and the eminently more secure and effective parental role they fulfil for Ada than her natural mother (played by real life transsexual Bibi Andersson).
With this we have to consider the idea that he is not representing how homosexuality was after the end of the dictatorship but with his new freedom, he was attempting to shed light on the problem. By 1986, with the release of his fifth feature film Matador his cinema was already widely identified with various clichés of Andalusian folklore that had been the hallmark of Francoist kitsch culture, including songs and the imagery related to Catholic ritual, gypsy culture and bullfighting
As it has often been noted, Almodóvar’s embrace of popular culture was not a frivolous identification with these nostalgic elements but a part of an aesthetic process of recycling the “desecho historico”, the historical dregs of cultural forms and styles identified with Francoist culture that his films endow with counterculture meanings. His appropriation of these elements as part of his signature style did align his films with the emergent Spanish gay cultures of the post-Franco decade particularly with his focus on drag queens and homosexuality.
Marvin D’Lugo believed that the issue of gayness as it related to his cinema needs to be viewed within the broader context of the geographical circulation of a discourse that is even specific to a local cultural context. Spanish gay culture as an intervention in the process of social de-marginalization in the decade following Franco’s death as well as to a series of transnational themes, modulated through the subversive qualities of melodrama as an expressive mode. When he describes his life as a low-level drama, he acknowledges his own engagement with that transnational discourse. (D’Lugo, 2006: )
It is also essential to consider that although the Catholic Church continues to voice its oppression to any form of non-marital and non-procreative sex, the prestige and influence it had under the Franco years have been seriously diminished partly because Spaniards seem to have learned how easy it is to make do without an institution that has traditionally legalized sexual repression among other things. In consequence, modern Spain enjoys some of the most egalitarian legislation, in Europe with regard to sexual orientation.
It has become one of the seven countries in the World that allows same-sex marriage and permits adoption by same-sex couples. Almodóvar was able to give light to the GLBT community by including an assortment of outlandish characters both gay and straight. Therefore, the way in which everyone and anyone in Almodóvar’s world is accepted, is in fact a fair representation of post-Franco Spain beginning to understand and accept anyone, despite their sexual preference.
La Vanguardia wrote an article stating: “Almodóvar se pasa al cine politico”. This was not the first time Spanish press questioned the political stance. On the surface their stories and plot lines appeared frivolous, disjointed, and ultimately trivial. At their core, lay a barely disguised interest in the social and a stunningly original approach to the representation of reality that engaged in unexpected ways with various aspects of the Spanish cultural tradition. (D'Lugo and Vernon: 153-156)
Through the lens of Almodóvar’s camera, the spectator becomes a witness of the many changes that have affected Spanish society in the last thirsty year’s changes that led to the evolution of its moral values. As Spanish society was so rapidly evolving, new ways of subverting the political and social order needed to be created. Almodovar explores drugs, religion, human sexuality and touches upon real life happenings of the time; he presents all of the changes that were taking within society, in a humane but yet shocking way for the audience.
CHAPTER THREE: ALMODÓVAR’S CHARACTERS & PEOPLE WITHIN SOCIETY
The liberation in Spain brought with it many other changes within society. Young teenagers now congregated ready to party and mingle, and contraceptive pills became readily available throughout the country. Pre-marital sex was still not the norm, but was no longer looked up upon as a heinous crime.
Within the early years of the transition there was already talk of passing a law to permit divorce. Some women were starting to band together to renew struggles for women’s rights and to change the restrictive laws that remained on the books. These liberating winds were reflected in Spanish cinema widespread.
Around the time that Garci was making Asignatura Pendiente and Jamie Chavarri, who made something of himself with El descanto. The liberation for Spanish society, was captured in Almodóvar’s work in particular. Almodóvar creates a world where everyone is equal; women, transsexuals, transvestites, men, the working class, etc. We do have to question was Spain really this open to these new phenomenon’s after 40 years of strict values? His embrace of totally marginal figures, raised criticism among Spanish critics, they regularly attached Almodóvar’s films for what they viewed as shallow character development, his exploitation of the trendy style of post-modern pastiche, and an insistence on gags in place of plot development.
Characteristically, directors like Erice, Saura and Manuel Gutierrez Aragon had constructed characters traumatized by their national history. By contrast, Almodóvar’s early characters’ motivations are simple, uncomplicated and nearly always rooted in the here and now. Almodóvar’s films have a curious way for resisting marginalization. Never limiting himself to a single protagonist. Almodóvar claims:
“I always try to choose prototypes and characters from modern-day Madrid, who are somehow representative of a certain mentality existing today... I think that since Franco died new generations have been coming to the fore, generations that are unrelated to former ones that are even unrelated to former ones that are even unrelated to the ‘progressive’ generations that appeared during the last years of the dictatorship. How do people 20 years old live in Madrid? It’s quite complex… The characters in my films utterly break with the past, which is to say that most of them, for example, are apolitical. Pleasure must be grasped immediately, hedonistically; that is almost the main leitmotif of their lives.”
Referring back to the first chapter, in Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del monton the plot follows the wild adventures of Pepi, an independent modern woman; Luci, a mousy, masochistic housewife and Bom, a lesbian punk rock singer. Even after a liberation is it likely that these three people would be friends? Besas argues that in fact, democratization brushed away and blurred distinctions. Hierarchy eroded; the “upper classes” started to blend with the mass office workers, business men, students, and professionals. (Besas, 1986)
Taking this theory into consideration, the open and randomness of friendships in the film, could quite easily have been occurring during this time in Spain. In all of Almodóvar’s works he gives increasing social power to female characters who have traditionally been marginalised within Spanish society. Given his actively deconstructive approach to dominant representations of cultural production, sexuality, authority, religion, justice, etc. and his self-declared pro-feminism position.
His focus on women as all of the main characters has positioned him as a ‘women’s director’. The rounded and sensitive characterisation of his female protagonists and the positive representation of female relationships and support networks contrast markedly with the critical and underdeveloped portrayal of many of the men in his films. (Jordan and Morgan-Tamosunas 119-121) Aforementioned, while analysing the characters in his films, we must be aware of his self-declared pro feminist position. (Holden 1992: 99-100)
''I think one of the biggest differences between me and my fellow directors is that I'm more interested in the female universe than the male one,'' says Mr. Almodóvar, who played host to Susan Sontag when she visited Madrid to watch him on the set. ''I can't explain why - they're just more interesting.” (Pitt, 1988)
Almodóvar has a fascination with women. In order to understand the impact and differences in women that Almodóvar represented in his films it is key to understand the situation that women were in during Francisco Franco’s dictatorship.
Under General Franco, society was extremely patriarchal, women were perceived to have certain role as wives and mothers. Women were excluded from public areas and forums of discussion. A prime example which supports this notion is the fact that women couldn’t drive without their husband’s permission. Their fundamental responsibility was to bear children, transmit moral values and educate children.
Along with Franco’s strong views on traditionalism meant that women were under strong social control encompassing a strict behaviour code. Very few women worked outside of the home and the ones that did were subordinated to men as unqualified. Although during Franco’s dictatorship there were some improvements during the 1930s in discrimination in areas such as divorce law, Franco dominated fascist policy and supported by the church.
He was able to make women completely subordinate to men. The ones who had fought for social change faced exile, repression, jail or just completely disappeared. Almodóvar offers a new woman, who is presented to the audience not as a mother or a wife but as a strong liberated individual who is able to choose what she wants or needs at any specific moment.
By contrast, paternal figures do not seem to have much of a voice or appearance in his films. The family unit that is represented in his films, is the contrary to the previous family unit that had been promoted Franco’s regime. Perhaps, the filmmaker’s acceptance of the socio-sexual patterns that create the new family is being adopted by mainstream society as reflected in the recognition by the Spanish legislative system in 2005, of same-sex marriage which was finally recognised as a valid institution.
Even today, with the most conservative sectors of Spanish society the good mother is the one who submits to rule of her father (patriarch of the family) follows his desires without questioning them and transmits this status quo to children. When considering the family’s place in contemporary Spanish society, girls are still raised to behave submissively and to follow the example of Mary, the Mother of Jesus and the pedestal to which all good mothers look for guidance or comfort.
Since the return of democracy in the late seventies, women have increasingly become part of the working force. In this time, the majority of women have begun to find their own place in the public sphere through employment, politics, etc. They are now established as both providers and financial supporters of the family. During the last thirty years, Spanish society has struggled to find a balance between the traditional roles of women as solely mothers who are expected to provide for the entire family without needing either the help nor the permission of any man. (Salmon and Matz 2012: 31)
There seems to be a recurring theme, as the few fathers who play a role in the lives of their children are transvestites who function as women in the public sphere. As early as 1986, in Matatdor, Bibi Andersen, the well-known Spanish transsexual actress, played a gypsy fortuneteller.
In this scene Bibi reads his fortune to Diego while she holds her baby. The transgression of the traditional sexual and gender barriers gives a first glimpse to what the future will bring to Spanish society, in which socio-sexual roles are not due to biology.
A year later 1887, in La ley del deseo, Almodóvar shocks Spanish society again with the character of Tina, a transsexual mother who is the biological father of Ada; the daughter with whom she is living.
Almodóvar depicts the paradox of contemporary womanhood, as many of his characters behave in an outrageous and shocking way. Many critics as well as the general public have re-approached Almodóvarian films for only reflecting the aspects of society that are negative which supposedly transgress the norm. In reality we can state that through the lens of his camera he captures the true evolution of women in society. Throughout his career, Almodóvar has asserted their different roles in films. In most of them, his dichotomy is visible and obvious. As time passed however the prostitute character, with all the judgement that society imposes on her vanishes as a singular figure as her behaviours become a blend of duality expressed by Alisson.
This evolution reflects the acceptance of women’s behaviours, both liberated and nurtured by today’s society. The progression from tradition to emancipation, results in a more realistic and syncretic representation of women which is reinforced by the set decoration and props. (Salmon and Matz 2012: 39)
Almodóvar’s extravagance and muti-layered plots present the audience with a family pattern centered in the maternal figure which is main catalyst for the development of the narrative. His films display a variety of maternal images of representations portrayed by some very different characters. Women, biological mothers or not, as well as by transvestites and other male substitutes all contribute to the defining and (re)shaping of the role of the mother within the modern Spanish film and ultimately within contemporary Spanish society. (Essay, p41)
Most of Almodóvar’s films follow a similar pattern: three generations are displayed, and they can be classified in two main characters’ family members and non-family members. From a linguistic or sociological point of view its well established that it takes three generations for change to happen, regardless of the nature of this change: the oldest (or first) generation is the guardian of the tradition; the middle (or second) generation initiated the change, either in values or behaviour, and the youngest (or third) generation is the one who will either fight against this change or go back to the tradition, or will embrace this change forever.
When applying this pattern to Almodóvar’s, we can observe that, besides very few exceptions such as Kika (1993), La mala educacion (2004) or Los abrazos rotos (2009), three generations are represented concurrently : the older generation, who usually lives in rural areas, or has moved to the city but is unhappy and longs to return to its roots; the second generation (in its late thirties or forties) who normally takes the lead and lived in the city; and finally the younger generation who represents the new Spain, ready to embrace social change.
The alternate generation structure that he provides crosses family borders and stretches the maternal role, using extra-familial members of the same age group, but not necessarily of the same genre, as the traditional mothers. He is therefore envisioning a new maternal and family pattern.
This can be demonstrated in Que he hecho yo para merecer esto? Where Gloria is unable to fulfil her maternal duties and is substituted by Cristal, the prostitute neighbor Juano (Kiti Manver), the epitome of the exemplary mother and housewife. Cristal takes the lead, caring for Gloria and her family when they need an extra hand and also worrying about the wellbeing of Gloria’s children. Gloria is in limbo in between these two personalities when she loses her family members one by one, she is ready to jump off a balcony. Failing as a mother she is saved by the return of her youngest son, who announced that “esta casa necesita un hombre (this house needs a man)”. Almodóvar breaks down the tradition family structure, by presenting a completely diverse and ‘modern’ family.
Que he hecho yo para merecer esto? Contains a lot of historical references within the context of women. Almodóvar claims that his interest in housewives stems from the fact that they transcend genre, could be the heroine of almost any kind of film. Moreover, if like Gloria, a housewife who is also a cleaning lady she is the ideal witness of the various social milieu. However, the choice of a housewife as protagonist is not simply a pragmatic one. The opening sequences in the flat suggest rather that Gloria represents a grotesque deformation of the Catholic ideal of the married women. Francoist manuals suggested that the perfect casada must combine the roles of women (happy, tender and compassionate by nature) selfless companion to their husbands; tireless homemaker and ideal mother.
As Maria Teresa Gallego notes in her study of women in the Falange, women were allowed no self-realization except in the domestic labour and their fundamental characteristic was submission. It was only the death of Franco in 1975 that permiso maritial was abolished and yet divorce was not legalized until 1981 and abortion (under limited circumstances) in 1985.
Even in 1987 (three years after the film’s release) Spain had the lowest percentage of working women and the highest ratio of housewives in the European community. Firstly, this questions that Almodóvar’s representation of this ‘new’ woman as independent, isn’t necessarily correct. To some extent then, Que he hecho yo? bears witness to the material conditions of working-class women who are oppressed in Spain. But it does so in an idiosyncratic manner; typical of Almodóvar. This we are shown not only the brutal insensitivity of Gloria’s husband towards her in, say his imperios requests that she cooks for him. (Besas 1986: 54-55).
Almodóvar’s fourth film Mujeres al Borde received a lot of criticism about the way in which he was representing women. Maria Asuncion Balonga holds that Almodóvar is making fun out of women, in general – the joke is on the female spectator. She goes on to suggest that in their curious combination of modernity and the traditionalism Almodóvar’s ‘girls’ (‘chicas’) are ‘incomplete’: ‘modern but naïve’, liberated but sentimental, always anxious to be loved, looked after, taken notice of. It is an accusation of misogyny that is more characteristic of British critics, especially (and ironically) those writing for the most reactionary newspaper.
Stuart Hall claims that Almodóvar’s ‘hybridised’ Spain, it is impossible to see Europe as a male and magisterial. Everything has been transposed into the “feminine” (and) feminine disorder is simply what life is like. Hall goes on to argue that, as I have myself, for a certain depth which he dares to call ‘authenticity’: ‘something that pursers the surface of the narrative and takes it to another level.. an oblique approach to the grand narratives of love and art and culture and cinema.’
He is referring to the final sequence in which Pepa simply says goodbye to the man she has been chasing so relentlessly throughout the film. But whatever the status of this new-found ‘authenticity; it seems likely that Almodóvar has been punished by male critics himself so constantly on the side of women. (Besas 1986: 216 – 17)
These two theories bring to light the idea that this ‘modern’ woman that Almodóvar has re-created in his characters, isn’t necessarily representative of a Spanish women. But how Almodóvar has chosen to create these characters. However, there has been a massive influx of female directors which has occurred since the 80s, which shows women are moving into the workforce.
Particularly in the mid-1990s there has been a significant development for the representation of women in Spanish cinema and marks a huge contrast with their former scarcity. The under-representation of women has always been particularly severe in crucial areas of production and direction. The almost total absence of women in film production and direction in the early years of cinema mirrors the exclusion of women in Spanish public life in general. Homosexuals emerged after decades of lying low, to flaunt their mannerisms openly before incredulous Spaniards who have pommelled them only a few years earlier.
Homosexuality is something that Almodóvar has never been shy about along the course of his films. His spirit of carnival parody permeates all of his films with a real celebration of cultural diversity and transvestism that was directly related to the unlimited possibilities of sexual expression and artistic explosion that came with socialism. His scenarios and topics played with compulsive repetition of the constraints and contradict ions that embrace modern Spanish culture this increasingly paradoxically the international success of his films.
Almodóvar carefully mocks the absurdity of cultural stereotypes while reproducing the embodiment of the “new Spanish identity”. Almodóvar: “I think my films are very contemporary. They represent more than others, I suppose the new Spain, this kind of new mentality that appears in Spain after Franco dies. Above all, after 1977 till now. Stories about the New Spain have appeared in the mass media of every country. Everybody has heard that now everything is different in Spain, that it has changed a lot, but it is not so easy to find this change in the Spanish cinema. I think in my films they see how Spain has changed, above all, because now it is possible to do this kind of film here.” “I believe that the new Spanish mentality is less dramatic although I demonstrate the contrary in my films. We have consciously left behind many prejudices, and we have humanized our problems. We have lost the fear of the earthly power (the police) and of celestial power (the church)”
There seems little doubt that Almodóvar’s most popular work. It is important to recognize that evidence of foreign popularity changed the perception of Almodóvar at home, leading credence to his claim to represent post-Franco Spain. In his films he brings to light some of the changes that have taken place within Spanish society, focusing on those who had previously been marginalized during Franco’s fascist dictatorship. He has a fascination with women in particular, he brings them to the center of his plots, with very few key male characters. His bias representation of females, gives the audience an un-realistic and in-accurate view on women. Although they did join the work force, had more opportunities and were no longer subjects of their husband, the change was not as eccentric as Almodóvar has portrayed. Thus, the liberation brought with it many changes for Spanish people, but it was not as drastic as the directors film might suggest.
The Almodóvar phenomenon shows how artistic performances are inevitably shaped by their sociopolitical contexts of production and reception. Following Almodóvar’s work chronologically – in the early 1950s Almodóvar was concerned with issues related to the dissolution of conventional forms and concepts of representation, as effected from an ironic and carnivalesque perspective, in the mid 1990s his cinema adopts more mainstream and narrative style, in the course of embracing an overtly critical position towards Spanish reality.
Almodóvar’s narrative evolution can be understood in the concept of a “wounded” culture that struggles for expression and finds it only in the form of a spectral, phantasmagoric mode. Almodóvar himself makes the following claim:
“One must always improve on reality… The first line of a story or scene is dictated to me byy reality, but the second line and the next film have to be written by me in order for this reality to change into something I want to see” (Almodóvar 158)
Throughout the course of Almodóvar’s work it evolves. During the early 1980s the director seemed more concerned with issues related to the dissolution of conventional forms and concepts of representation, as affected from an ironic and carnivalesque perspective. Whereas in the mid-1990s his cinema adopts more mainstream and narrative style in the course of embracing an overtly critical position toward Spanish reality. Almodóvar’s creative evolution can be understood in the concept of a “wounded” culture that struggles for expression and finds it only in the form of a spectral, phantasmoneic mode.
“I sometimes have the impression that reality is simply there to provide material for my next film” – Pedro Almodóvar.
From his outrageous Pepi, Luci, Bom and its provocative scenes. Almodóvar has reached a more harmonious vision in one of his latest films Los abrazos rotos, in which a modern family pattern is finally functioning. History shows us that after each evolution comes a time of excess followed eventually by reintegration and homeostatis. We suggest that both Almodóvar and Spanish society itself have experiences this path, and both have now reached a certain level of maturity.
For the past thirty years, Almodóvar’s filmography has built a valuable and meaningful visual corpus that allows the spectator to better understand the changed that have taken place in Spanish society. The changes depict society in the middle of transition, breaking free from a controlling religious-political system to embrace a very open one in which Catholic tradition is no longer able to function as the norm.
Each film is a faithful mirror of these various social, moral and religious parameters and when watched in chronological order, the body of work acts like an ongoing electro cardiogram, closely monitoring society’s behaviors. According to Kathleen M. Vernon and Barbara Morris believe that Almodovar’s films are a heir to an ambivalent legacy generated by over half a century of tensions between government-sponsored attempts to define and perpetuate a national cultural tradition and the sundry enticements of an apparently liberating but no less restrictive transnational culture industry. His skill in negotiating such creative and commercial fault lines no doubt representing an important factor in his global appeal. (p5)
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