To celebrate the release of Pedro Almodóvar’s new film Julieta at the end of August, this summer we launch a mini-retrospective of recent films by Spain’s greatest living filmmaker.
Director, writer, producer and former actor Pedro Almodóvar has been at the forefront of European auteur cinema for over four decades. He was born in the heart of La Mancha, and his family moved to the rural region of Estremadura when he was a child in the 1950s. Aged seventeen, he left home and moved to Madrid with no money and no job, but with a very specific project in mind: to study cinema and direct films. It was impossible to enrol in the Official Film School because Franco had just closed it. After working in sporadic jobs, he got a part-time position at the National Telephone Company of Spain in 1971 and he was finally able to buy his first Super‐8mm camera.
Over the course of twelve years as an administrative assistant, he shared this job in the mornings with other multiple activities which provided his real training as a filmmaker and as a person. Gaining an in‐depth knowledge of the Spanish middle class at the start of the consumer era with its dramas and misfortunes, was a real goldmine for a future storyteller. In the evenings and nights he wrote, loved and acted with independent theatre group Los Goliardos, played in a parodic punk band, collaborated with various underground magazines and wrote stories, some of which were published.
After years honing his craft on short films shot on cheap super-8, he made his feature film debut with the no-budget, women-focussed, brightly-coloured, sex-obsessed, feather-ruffling, all-out camp comedy Pepi, Luci, Bom in the early 1980s.
At this time, Spain was starting to emerge from a 40-year fascist dictatorship that had worked in association with a powerful religious elite to hold a tight grip on the country's cultural output, imposing censorship on all art forms. Five years after the death of Franco in 1975, Almodóvar’s generation exploded on the Madrid cultural scene, reclaiming freedom of expression, sexuality and a right to fun. The resulting countercultural wave came to be known as ‘Movida Madrileña’; encompassing film, television, music, graphic and visual arts, it became one of the most influential creative movements in the country since the republican period of the late 1920s (a generation which had seen Federico García Lorca arrested and murdered for his homosexuality and socialist activism, and Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel exiled for their cultural and anti-religious dissidence).
Almodóvar’s early films depict a world where conformism is satirised, and pleasure in all its forms - sex, food, dance, music, drugs or, literally, whatever turns you on - is celebrated. By contrast, in the most recent phase of his prolific career, Almodóvar has taken a turn to melodrama tinged with elements of the psychological thriller, and found a new emotional depth. Without losing his satirical edge or colourful aesthetics (his meticulous obsession for production design, and his vivid use of primary colours being one of the defining traits of his visuals), he continues to plummet the depths of human desire and its darkest corners where it might also take a turn to perversion, embracing the ways humans love and are loved, possess and are possessed. (It is no coincidence that his production company is called El Deseo, Spanish for 'desire'.)
Openly influenced by his favourite directors Hitchcock, Bergman, Fellini and Buñuel, he has managed to steer clear of the misogynistic traps of many of their films by placing women at the centre of his work, carefully and lovingly observing and depicting them from a deeply empathetic and fresh point of view. His regular collaborators - which include Penélope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Rossy de Palma, Javier Bardem and Antonio Banderas - have all declared him to be the most compassionate and brilliant director of actors and actresses they have encountered. Other fruitful filmic partnerships include working with producer Agustín Almodóvar (his younger brother) and composer Alberto Iglesias.
Almodóvar has proven to be an auteur in the classic sense, who returns time and again to themes, motifs and aesthetics that define his particular brand of cinema.
Through to the enduring classic (probably his enduring masterpiece) Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, which brought him the international fame that led to to his Oscar-winning All About My Mother; from the early oddball punkishness of Labyrinth of Passion to the mature melodrama of his latest, Julieta, Almodóvar’s films reflect a passion for life at its most eccentric, bizarre, obscure and heart-opening moments. They are works of art that break free and enjoy liberation in all possible ways.
Join us from SUNDAY 31st July to revisit or discover these brilliant classics, presented at Curzon Bloomsbury in a series of special screenings plus introductions
£10 TICKETS FOR UNDER-30S
VOYAGER TICKETS ARE AVAILABLE FOR THE ALMODÓVAR SEASON. SIMPLY SELECT "VOYAGER" WHEN BOOKING ONLINE AND REMEMBER TO BRING PROOF OF AGE WHEN COLLECTING TICKETS.
TIE ME UP! TIE ME DOWN! (¡Átame! 1990) + INTRODUCTION
SUNDAY 31 JULY AT 2.30PM, CURZON BLOOMSBURY
Fresh out of a psychiatric institution, young Ricki (Antonio Banderas) wants a normal life: a wife, a family and a job. And he has a plan: he will kidnap B-movie star Marina (Victoria Abril) and make her fall in love with him. Despite the rocky beginning, the two start a relationship based on obsession and pleasure as the ties that bind what may well be one of the greatest and most unconventional cinematic couples of all time.
A wildly erotic parody of heterosexual marriage disguised as a Stockholm syndrome comedy that could only have been made by Almodóvar, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! followed his breakout international hit Women on the Verge of A Nervous Breakdown; the two films were actually shot on the same apartment set.
Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! was Almodóvar’s fifth collaboration with Antonio Banderas, launching him as a leading actor and international star; Banderas subsequently moved to Hollywood and the two were not to work together again until The Skin I Live In (2011). Regular collaborator Victoria Abril also got her breakout role in this film, following years in minor parts on Spanish television. She went on to star in Almodóvar’s High Heels (1991) and Kika (1993).
LIVE FLESH (Carne Trémula, 1997) + INTRODUCTION BY JOSÉ ARROYO
SUNDAY 7 AUGUST AT 2:30PM, CURZON BLOOMSBURY
Loosely inspired by Ruth Rendell’s crime novel Live Flesh, Almodovar’s first foray into literary adaptation is a raw and erotically charged drama tinged with elements of film noir.
A tragic accident sees the fates of five characters tangle into a web of affairs and revenge. They are Victor (Liberto Rabal), a young man born on one of the darkest days of the Franco regime, on a bus that was taking his mother, a prostitute (a cameo by the young Penélope Cruz), to the hospital; David (Javier Bardem), an ex-policeman who is now a wheelchair basketball star; David’s wife Elena (Francesca Neri) an ex-call girl and drug dealer, turned primary school educator; David’s alcoholic cop partner Sancho (José Sancho) and his wife Clara (Angela Molina).
Live Flesh star Javier Bardem has gone on to become the first Spanish actor to win an Oscar (for No Country for Old Men) and has appeared in over fifty films so far.
This screening will be introduced by José Arroyo (Principal Teaching Fellow In Film Studies at the University of Warwick). José Arroyo was a founding member of The Montreal Mirror and has contributed film criticism to a range of media outlets including Sight and Sound magazine, Front Row on BBC Radio 4, The Cinema Show/The DVD Collection for BBC TV and many others. His research includes topics in film aesthetics, film criticism, queer cinema and the films of Pedro Almodóvar. His blog is First Impressions.
VOLVER (2006) + INTRODUCTION BY DAVID JENKINS
SUNDAY 14 AUGUST 2:30PM, CURZON BLOOMSBURY
A supernatural tragicomedy set in Madrid and La Mancha, Volver (Spanish for ‘return’) sees three generations of women survive wind, fire and even death itself, thanks to goodness, audacity and a limitless vitality. The extraordinary ensemble cast of Volver (which includes Penélope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Dueñas, Blanca Portillo, Yohana Cobo, and Chus Lampreave) received a collective Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2006, where Almodóvar also won the prize for Best Screenplay.
In Volver Almodóvar looked for stylistic influence from the Italian masters Fellini, Visconti and Pasolini, adopting their genre-blending approach to social satire, melodrama, farce, and magical realism to tell this affecting and wildly entertaining story of death, abuse and female companionship.
The plot of Volver was inspired by a story Almodóvar heard in La Mancha during the making of The Flower of My Secret (1995), in which it also features as a short film-within-the-film. Volver also marked a return to collaboration between Almodóvar and the actress Carmen Maura after 18 years, following a reported falling out during the release of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.
This screening will be introduced by David Jenkins, Film Critic and Editor of Little White Lies.
BROKEN EMBRACES (Los abrazos rotos, 2009) + LIVE PODCAST AND DISCUSSION WITH THE CINEMATOLOGISTS
SUNDAY 21 AUGUST 2:30PM, CURZON BLOOMSBURY
The death of Ernesto Martel (José Luis Gómez) sets off a chain of events that forces one man to come to terms with his past. Before he went blind, ‘Harry Caine’ was Mateo Blanco (Lluís Homar), a film director who often worked with Ernesto. Ten years ago, Ernesto and Mateo's friendship became a battle for Lena (Penélope Cruz), Ernesto's mistress and Mateo's secret object of affection. When the former recruits his son (Rubén Ochandiano) to spy on the latter, things quickly spiral out of control.
Almodóvar’s recurring theme of “amour fou” dominated by fatality, jealousy, treachery and guilt, intertwines with an investigation of the voyeuristic powers of cinema. A romantic thriller that was described as “pure Almodóvar”, Broken Embraces nods to and spoofs a number of film genres (the film within the film is a parody of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) displaying the director’s cinephile credentials, as well as his sensational command of framing and colour (this is the most ‘red’ of all Almodóvar’s films).
INTRODUCTION + DISCUSSION WITH THE CINEMATOLOGISTS PODCAST
This screening will feature a live podcast with The Cinematologists.
Hosted and produced by Dr. Dario Llinares and Dr. Neil Fox, The Cinematologists is one of the UK’s top 20 film podcasts on the iTunes charts. The podcast interconnects cinephilia, popular criticism, fandom and academia through discussion and debate. Each episode is structured around a film screening, which Dario and Neil introduce, and a post-screening discussion that gives the audience the opportunity to engage with the film.
These live recordings are edited together alongside interviews with directors, actors, critics and academics. The philosophy of the show is to select films that open up discussion around the essential idea of ‘the cinematic’ and what that means in the digital age, but also allow for wider questions regarding how film reflects and reimagines culture and society. The Cinematologists is a project for audiences to critically engage through film texts, the auditorium environment and online spaces.
On Sunday August the 21st The Cinematologists are excited to present Broken Embraces for their first collaboration with Curzon Bloomsbury. The films of Almodovar are alive with aesthetic flair and symbolism, and along with the usual themes of gender, sexuality and voyeurism, Broken Embraces is a film that explicitly interrogates the medium of cinema. This makes it a perfect film for a Cinematologists exploration and we are looking forward to hearing the thoughts of Curzon’s dedicated and informed audience.
JULIETA (2016) + INTRODUCTION
SUNDAY 28 AUGUST 2:30PM, CURZON BLOOMSBURY
Pedro Almodóvar’s 20th feature film premiered in Competition at the Cannes Film Festival 2016. Adapted from three, interrelated short stories by Nobel prize winner Alice Munro (‘Chance’, ‘Soon’ and ‘Silence’), Julieta is the story of a teacher played by Emma Suárez and Adriana Ugarte and adult and young Julieta respectively (a recognisable homage to Luis Buñuel's That Obscure Object of Desire).
After the death of her father, Julieta's daughter Antía, aged 18, inexplicably runs away from home. Twelve years later, in an attempt to reconnect with her, Julieta writes a long letter to explain family and personal secrets, trying to figure out destiny, guilt and the unfathomable mystery that leads some people to abandon those they love.
Echoes of Sirk, Bergman and Kieślowski resonate throughout this quintessentially Almodóvarian melodrama of loss and broken motherhood, painted in primary colours. Almodóvar’s original idea was to write the film in English and shoot in New York; he offered the leading role of Julieta to Meryl Streep before realising that he felt much more comfortable writing and shooting in Spanish. Almodóvar regulars Darío Grandinetti (Talk to Her) and Rossy de Palma (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, Broken Embraces) also appear.
Our screening on Sunday 28 August 2.30pm at Curzon Bloomsbury will be introduced by Maria Delgado.
Maria Delgado is a critic, academic and curator. Professor and Director of Research at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London and an Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Modern Languages Research at the University of London’s School of Advanced Study, she has published extensively in the area of Spanish-language theatre and film. She is a programme advisor to the London Film Festival and contributes regularly to a range of media outlets including Sight & Sound.
Julieta is released at Curzon Cinemas on Friday 26 August.
This season is presented with the support of the Instituto Cervantes London and Pathé UK.
COMPETITION: WIN A COPY OF "Desire Unlimited: The Cinema of Pedro Almodóvar"
We've teamed up with Verso Books to give three people the chance to win a copy of this great book by Paul Julian Smith, plus three pairs of tickets to any one of our Almodóvar retrospective screenings.
In the last decade, Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar has grown from critical darling of the film circuit scene to mainstream success. Frequently comic, often deadly serious, always visually glorious, his recent films range from the Academy Award–winning drama Talk to Her to the 2011 horror film The Skin I Live In. Though they are ambitious and varied in style, each is a distinctive innovation on the themes that have defined his work.
Desire Unlimited is the classic film-by-film assessment of Almodóvar's oeuvre, now updated to include his most recent work. Still the only study of its kind in English, it vigorously confirms its original argument that beneath Almodóvar's genius for comedy and visual pleasure lies a filmmaker whose work deserves to be taken with the utmost seriousness.
For a chance to win, simply tweet @CurzonCinemas using #Almodovar or email firstname.lastname@example.org with 'Almodovar' on the subject line: what is your favourite Almodovar film?