The Films of Pedro Almodóvar
Pepi, Luci, Bom
Laberinto de pasiones
¿Qué he hecho yo para merecer esto!!
Law of Desire
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
Tie Me Up/Tie Me Down (August 2/14)
Written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar, Tie Me Up/Tie Me Down follows unbalanced mental patient Ricky (Antonio Banderas) as he sets out to convince porn star Marina Osorio (Victoria Abril) that they're perfect for each other - which he accomplishes by kidnapping her and holding her captive in her own apartment. It's an off-kilter premise that's employed to distressingly ineffective effect by Almodóvar, as the filmmaker has infused the proceedings with a disastrously deliberate pace that holds the viewer at arms length from start to finish - with the movie's hands-off atmosphere compounded by an uneventful screenplay that leaves the far-from-fleshed-out characters with exceedingly little to do. It doesn't help, either, that the film is almost entirely lacking in the panache that one might've expected, with Almodóvar's subdued sensibilities essentially placing a microscope over each and every one of the movie's many, many deficiencies. There's a pervasively stagnant feel here that grows more and more problematic as time (slowly) progresses, as the film boasts (or suffers from) a midsection devoted solely to the lifeless dynamic between the two protagonists (ie Ricky abducts Marina and then nothing much of interest occurs). Tie Me Up/Tie Me Down's failure is ultimately cemented by Almodóvar's treatment of Abril's flighty Marina, as the character's attitude towards her captor seems to turn on a dime (ie she hates him one minute and loves him the next) and it's consequently impossible to work up an ounce of interest in or concern for her well-being - which, in the end, makes it difficult to care one way or the other how this all turns out.
The Flower of My Secret
All About My Mother
Talk to Her (December 7/02)
Pedro Almodóvar's latest film, Talk to Her, is one of his few films that focuses in on two male characters.The majority of his pictures, including the acclaimed All About My Mother, are concerned mostly with women and their problems. Here, he proves to be surprisingly adept in creating male characters worth caring about, and indeed, the two protagonists in Talk to Her are among the most compelling committed to screen all year. Though Talk to Her, which details the trials and tribulations of a reporter named Marco (Dario Grandinetti) and Javier Camera's caregiver Benigno, isn't exactly heavy on plot, the movie manages to remain compelling throughout mostly due to some spectacular lead performances. Grandinetti, in particular, is a standout as the journalist whose entire world comes crumbling down around him. He has, as another character notes, an astoundingly expressive face - one that's put to good use by Almodóvar, who often showcases it in loving close-up. But more than that, this is a tremendously layered performance. Marco is certainly an incredibly complicated character, and the various facets of his personality are revealed slowly as the film progresses. Just as good is Camera as Benigno, a character who we're never quite sure about. His life, as we soon find out, has been spent caring for women - first his mother for twenty years and now a woman in a coma (Leonor Watling's Alicia) - which has seemingly stunted his pass from childhood into adulthood. His innocence is eventually revealed to have a dark side, which puzzles Marco more than anything else but doesn't diminish their friendship. And that's really the key to the film. Talk to Her is about men and the way in which they relate to each other. Marco and Benigno are both troubled in their own way, and it's through their conversations together that they begin to work through their problems. Marco doesn't know how to deal with a lover who falls into a coma, refusing even to talk to her, while Marco has long (albeit one-sided) discussions with Alicia. At one point, Marco mentions that the four years he's been working with Alicia have been the best in his life - which isn't terribly surprising, given that he devoted himself completely to his mother for twenty-odd years. And though that should have been enough - two completely believable male characters - Almodóvar's included a variety of intriguing supporting female roles. From the two comatose patients (who are afforded some conscious screen time) to a nurse that works alongside Benigno, even the smallest character has something interesting going on - more so than even the main protagonist in some Hollywood films. In an unusual move (to say the least), Almodovar interrupts the story around the halfway point and inserts footage from a silent film being watched by Benigno. Presumably, the silent film we're looking at becomes a part of Benigno's imagination midway through, because there's certainly no way a film like that could've ever been made. It's this section that stands out as Almodóvar's only indulgence (well, that and a Reservoir Dogs-esque flashback that sees a character talking from within a story), and doesn't really serve any purpose except to take us away from the characters for about seven minutes. Still, even including that one bizarre sidetrack, Talk to Her is one of the most engaging and honest films to hit screens in a while.
Bad Education & Volver
Click here and here for reviews.
The Skin I Live In
I'm So Excited! (April 16/18)
A comedy without any laughs, I'm So Excited! follows the passengers and crew of a Mexico City-bound airplane as they prepare for a possible crash landing by drinking, doing drugs, and having sex. Filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar establishes I'm So Excited!'s tone of unfocused irreverence right off the bat, as the movie opens with amusing yet fairly pointless cameo appearances by Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz (ie Almodóvar seems to have enlisted the pair not for any specific, compelling reason but merely because he could). From there, I'm So Excited! segues into a middling, meandering narrative with little in the way of context or character development - with Almodóvar's recurring emphasis on decidedly surreal elements and oddball cutaways perpetuating the movie's sketch-comedy atmosphere. And while there are a few subplots that fare comparatively well - eg one of the passengers calls home and inadvertently prevents a woman from committing suicide - I'm So Excited! suffers from an almost total lack of compelling elements that slowly-but-surely transforms the whole thing into a fairly interminable experience. It's ultimately impossible not to wonder just what Almodóvar originally set out to accomplish with this disastrous in-joke of a picture, and the movie certainly confirms the feeling that the erratic filmmaker is at his best when focused on stories with a more overtly dramatic bent.
Based on stories by Alice Munro, Julieta follows the title character (Emma Suárez) as she embarks on a quest to track down the daughter she hasn't seen in over a decade - with the movie also detailing the character's exploits as a younger woman (where she's played by Adriana Ugarte). Filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar delivers a mostly rewarding picture that's nevertheless saddled with a few lulls, with, especially, the film suffering from a context-free opening stretch that prevents the viewer from wholeheartedly connecting to the central character. It's only as Julieta moves into its mostly-flashback midsection that it becomes more and more absorbing, as Almodóvar does a superb job of transforming the younger protagonist into a compelling, three-dimensional figure - with the filmmaker's willingness to embrace the more salacious aspects of Munro's stories paving the way for an increasingly engrossing melodrama. There's little doubt, as well, that the effectiveness of the narrative's set-in-the-past portions increase the impact of its contemporary sequences, with the increasingly compelling vibe certainly perpetuated by the strength of both Suárez and Ugarte's work as the conflicted Julieta. The end result is an unquestionably above-average effort from an often exasperatingly uneven filmmaker, with the movie's refreshingly (and appropriately) brisk running time ensuring that it never quite wears out its welcome (although, by that same token, the abrupt ending is a little tough to swallow).