Beyond the Reflexive
Pedro Almodovar's films are profoundly light and lightly profound. They often attend to the weighty and the perplexing but usually do so while leaving the viewer in a constant state of emotional contentment. A partial synopsis of almost any of the director's films could indicate the harrowing: in Volver, a girl kills her stepfather after he tries to molest her; in All About My Mother a son dies in a car crash in Madrid, and the mother recovers in Barcelona where she befriends another woman who will die of AIDS. In Talk to Her, a young nurse becomes fixated on his comatose patient, Alicia, having sex with her while she is still in a coma, and kills himself in prison. Yet this doesn't quite capture the tone of the director's work, which is melodramatically assuaging rather than realistically depressive. Part of that assuagement in Almodovar's earlier work came from the boldness of its colour scheme and the absurdity of its plotting. "I always represent life, but it's also a kind of artifice. But even with this artifice, I try to reflect the characters." (Time Out) In many of the films of the 1980s and 1990s, the mise-en-scene was hyperbolised while in the films we will be addressing mainly (from 1999 to 2011), the colour scheme is merely exaggerated, with the director nevertheless retaining the emotional contentment we believe is a key element of his work.
Let us return to the plot of Talk to Her and see how Almodova achieves this cathartic through-line, how the terrible can lead to the triumphant without arriving at the facile. If Guillermo Cabrera Infante can speak of Almodrama, as a very specific type of melodrama, it rests partly on the director's ability to use all the tropes of melodramatic form without quite arriving at the risible. If melodrama is usually expected to be taken straight, Almodovar insists that the more kinks you can put into the form, the easier it will be to take a modern audience with you. His films are weepies but they are constantly undercutting their weepiness with reflexive irony. In Talk to Her, after the nurse Benigno is put in jail, the film's other main character, Marco, returns to Madrid and decides to rent Benigno's now empty apartment. It is potentially a very sad moment in the film. Marco has been back in contact because his ex, Lydia (who was still in love with a fellow bullfighter), has passed away in the same hospital in which Benigno was working. Someone informs him Benigno's in prison and, after Marco and Benigno speak, Marco agrees to stay in his place while trying to help Benigno as much as he can. Arriving at the flat he gets the keys from the concierge and the elderly lady says there was a shocking lack of publicity over the case: why didn't the paparazzi come and interview her over the scandal? What a state the mass media must be in when it isn't chasing every scurrilous story. She feels quite neglected, she says, as the film offers the comedic at a moment of great heaviness. Earlier in the film too, Talk to Her undercuts its own seriousness. Lydia has split with the bullfighter boyfriend and shows up on TV to talk about her work, but the interviewer only wants to discuss her break-up, and literally won't let go. When Lydia gets up to leave, the TV presenter holds on until she is dragged off the couch. Yet by the end of the film, the tone will be exclusively sombre, with both Lydia and Benigno dead. However, it will also be optimistic: Alicia comes out of her coma and it looks like a relationship will start with Marco. The film arrives at a happy ending no matter the tragedies that have befallen other characters, and we might muse over Almodovar's skill in making the unlikely the emotionally plausible.
Alas, to explain we need more plot. Marco has earlier in the film been attending to Lydia's bedside after a bullfighting accident that has left her comatose. After Marco discovers that Lydia was still in love with the other bullfighter, he spends more time with Benigno and thus with Alicia. When she recovers fully they see each other at a dance performance, they talk briefly and, after the interval, we see Alicia several rows behind Marco with Almodovar suggesting a burgeoning relationship: Marcy y Alicia appears on the screen. In the earlier scene, she has noticed him tear up, and this is why she asks him if he is okay. At the beginning of the film, it is Benigno who is at a dance performance and it is he who witnesses Marco's tears, long before they get to know each other. Both scenes are in the same theatre and both are performances by Pina Bausch, and the use of Bausch and the parallelism allow us to understand an aspect of Almodovar's depth within his shallowness; the shallowness within his depth. Bausch's work refuses the type of irony Almodovar's insists upon and yet can keep in check the reflexive aspect of that irony, while deepening it. The same here with Caetano Veloso's performance of Cucurruucucu Paloma, which Marco watches and where he again tears up. These aren't neutral performances; merely music in the background while the drama is foregrounded, and Almodovar allows time for the pieces to be absorbed not just by the characters but the viewer too as he lets the performance in each instance play for up to three minutes. Speaking of Bausch's pieces used in the film, Almodovar said, "if I had asked for it specifically I couldn't have got anything better. Pina Bausch had unknowingly created the best doors through which to enter and leave Talk To Her." (Sadlers Wells)
If Almodovar is often a very facetious filmmaker who can undermine the mass media in the two scenes we have invoked and thus plays up not just the shallowness of the televisual, but the potential shallowness of his own work, he has, in contrast, the presence of art that signifies high seriousness. It can sound like all we are saying is that Almodovar borrows from 'sincere' art to give his work a sincerity it wouldn't otherwise quite have. But that isn't the point. It is more that Almodovar's purpose rests on balancing the trivial with the portentous, the humorous with the lachrymose, the tightly narrational with the absurdly digressive. When Benigno meets up with a psychiatrist, the film briefly attends to the secretary answering the phone and telling her friend who is calling that she has just had an elephant-sized bowel movement. It is the sort of moment that gives to Almodovar's work its chatty informality, the feeling that when you are watching one of the director's films you are always in on the gossip, while the body's functions are never far away. In Volver, much is made of the mother's foul farts and in the same film central character Raimunda (Penelope Cruz) opens the door to an admirer; he notices some blood on her neck and she explains it away as women's troubles: as menstruation blood. It is a great example of Almodovar's seriousness meeting lightness: the blood comes from the stepfather's now dead body.
Almodovar's early work usually accepted the flippant over the affective and found in the colour schemes a tonal mise-en-scene to match the emotional tenor of the story. It is there in Tie Me Up Tie Me Down; here we have an actress kidnapped and trussed up in her apartment, and any potential seriousness in the story is offset by the exuberance of the colours in the design. The kitchen is a swirl of mismatched patterns. The closed curtains are floral patterned; the tiling, bold circles and straight lines. The tea-towels don't match and the plastic tablecloth is a vulgar tourist map showing the great sites of Spain. Clayton Dillard reckoned "...cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine manages degrees of realism and fantasy in equal measure, turning even the confines of [one of the main character's] Marina's domestic apartment into a carnivalesque, candy-colored plethora of visual signifiers and connotations." (Slant) But it seems the measures aren't equal and the emphasis rests on the candy-color over the realism. Other rooms in the actress's apartment and the one across the way that she and her kidnapper briefly occupy are blocks of bold colour, puff blue, aqua green, salmon pink. There is also a digressive song a third of the way through the film at a party that has no impact on the central characters who are in an apartment elsewhere. It is a fine number and Almodovar devotes a couple of minutes to it but it carries none of the significance that Bausch and Gaetano do. Like the colours, it adds to the tonal lightness.
Yet perhaps in his early work, Almodovar hadn't quite found the Almodrama he was seeking, as though his purpose as a filmmaker was to absorb comedy and tragedy in a new configuration that would pass through melodrama but wouldn't be beholden to it. He knew he wanted more comedy to the drama than melodrama allows, but wanted too the pathos of the genre by incorporating the tragic. In all six of the Almodovar films we address, they hinge on tragedies that catalyse rather than finalise the stories he tells. In All About My Mother it is the death of the son; in Bad Education the sexual abuse of the boy; in Talk to Her, the bullfight that shows Lydia almost gored to death and thus in a coma; in Broken Embraces a car accident that leaves the main character blind; in Volver, a fire that took places many years earlier and seemed to kill Raimunda's parents; in The Skin I Live In it is the suicide of his wife and the death of his daughter. All of these events are presented seriously, and partly why we don't include the stepfather's death in Volver is because it is as tonally light as the kidnapping of the actress in Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down. But what the tragic aspect gives to each of them is a tonal weight in films often threatening to become light works. "Italian critic Franco Moretti has argued, that literature that makes us cry operates via a special manipulation of temporality: when characters in the story catch up with and realize what the audience already knows. We cry, Moretti argues, not just because the characters do, but at the precise moment when desire is finally recognized as futile. The release of tension produces tears." (Film Bodies/Genre, Genre and Excess) Linda Williams offers the Moretti quote in the context of looking at genres that produce strong reactions, like horror, melodrama and low comedy. Whether Almodovar allows the audience to know more than the characters is a moot point, but he would seem to want also to make us cry, and this is where Almodovar's reflexive dimension comes in. In many of the earlier films, the reflexive added to the provocative shallowness of the material, digressions that didn't add much thematic weight to the work but still contributed to that emotional contentment we have invoked.
It was clear that Almodovar never wished to eradicate the feel-good factor altogether, but he did seem to wish to develop the heft of it. As he said of his work as it moved into the late 90s', "I'm seeing more and more clearly how to communicate emotion." (Almodovar on Almodovar) Speaking of Talk to Her he said that being friends with both Bausch and Gaetano wouldn't have been reason enough to include them in the film as they function quite differently from the inclusion of friends from the Madrid in the eighties work. In Talk to Her he reckoned that "had those three moments [using Bausch and Gaetano] not been full of meaning for me, I wouldn't have used them." (Almodovar on Almodovar)
In the early films, it was about being immersed in a scene, having fun while making art, and if there wasn't much art there would be plenty fun. Discussing why he included Olvida Gara in his first film Pepi, Luci, Bom, he says, "I was the first to make her sing. She never acted again on film. I hadn't found her a particularly gifted actress..." (Almodovar on Almodovar) Even with Cecilia Roth, who was in both Pepi, Luci Bom, and Labyrinth of Passion, he admitted he didn't employ her because she was a good actress: "Cecilia was a friend of mine and I gave her a small part because her character was totally in keeping with the role." (Almodovar on Almodovar) Friendship seemed to matter more than talent, yet let us not pretend things are that simple. Roth is surely taking the tiniest of roles in Talk to Her because she is still Almodovar's friend (if remarks like the one above didn't put it at risk), but one wouldn't doubt that if she performed it badly he would have excised her from the film. This says much of course about the sort of power Almodovar had by the early 2000s, but when we see Roth and Marisa Paredes as part of the audience listening to Gaetano, we are witnessing an emotion greater than the simply self-reflexive. In many of the earlier films, the weakness of the performance could be incorporated within the ad hoc nature of the diegetic messiness. Not in the later work (with the possible exception of one of Almodovar's very worst films, I'm So Excited).
This referential weightiness we might believe became central to Almodovar's project as he matured as a filmmaker. He wanted to turn the contemporaneous into the historical, and the self-reflexive into the aesthetically reflective. Take a song like Werewolf in Broken Embraces. Coming in just as the leading characters Mateo (Lluis Homar) and Lena (Penelope Cruz) take off to Lanzarote from Madrid, to escape Lena's brutal husband, the music doesn't announce itself as a knowing or ironic piece, used to capture a demographic or as a counterpoint to the action, but to deepen the film's examination of preemptive loss. If John Hughes films of the eighties locked us into a synergetic use of music that helped the musicians, and helped Hughes, in a feedback loop of profitability as Simple Minds could have a number-one US hit on the back of the film, and Hughes could have a theme tune for disaffected youth in The Breakfast Club, the same was true of numerous other filmmakers. They knew that music could help the film, and film could help the music. Hence the synergy. In turn, Tarantino could resurrect a seventies bubble gum number in Reservoir Dogs to generate a cruel irony in the scene where Michael Madsen lops off a cop's ear and turn the song into a hit. Almodovar uses Cat Power's song, though, to register a loss that we have comprehended but not understood and thus there is neither quite irony nor synergy but something deeper. We know from early in the film that Mateo is grieving but we don't quite know the specifics, and the song tenderly takes us into the final days of Lena's life as she will die in the car crash that blinds Mateo. If they hadn't gone to this island would she have died, we may wonder, and Almodovar manages quite beautifully to register the loss initially with overhead shots of the volcanic, barren landscape, and then a little later as Mateo and Lena lie on the couch watching Rossellini's Voyage to Italy. Almodovar says of its use: "Of all my films, this is one that doesn't explicitly cite others, except for the Rossellini, adding, the role film plays is always an active role, but it's not as an homage or citation of other films. There's something about citation that's very passive. Even with citations of Rossellini, which I do in this film, the references are quite active." (Huffington Post)
Perhaps there are three ways to make another artwork active within one's own and we have invoked all three if we acknowledge the synergetic, the ironic and the reflective. The synergetic can make the work fashionable (as in The Breakfast Club) and the potentially horrific ironically facetious (in the scene from Reservoir Dogs). Some of Almodovar's work has been far from resistant to either of these approaches. But by the late nineties, it was as though Almodovar wished to work into his material at least an aspect of what could be called the art debt: the awareness that one's own art isn't an ironic contribution to the form, or an addition to the market, but in deep dialogue with other works. When Tarkovsky makes use of Breughel in Mirror, when Wenders alludes to Edward Hopper in The American Friend, and Godard the fauvists in Eloge de l'amour, this is the filmmaker knowing there is a long history of the image, from painting, that cinema contributes towards but didn't initiate. What was new about cinema was that it could record reality; what wasn't new about film was that it was part of a much broader image structure of re-presentation going back to cave paintings, to human beings duplicating the images of the world with images on walls.
Many of the best films have acknowledged that debt even if they are obviously creating in a relatively new medium, and wish to be in thrall to the reality that they film. In Agnes Varda's Vagabond she makes full use of the winter in the South of France, filming clearly on location in Gard, Hrault and Bouches-du-Rhne, but she also knows that there are images that long precede her, with paintings like Cezanne's Winter in Provence, and part of the tension in the film visually is between documenting the reality she sees and absorbing the painterly that gives to her images a permanence greater than the act of recording. There is nothing ironic or synergetic in this use, nothing to suggest Varda wants from us a nod of recognition, nor that she has done a deal with an impressionist gallery. It shows respect for the image in its broadest sense, not in the cinematically or financially narrow.
Such a debt may be harder to acknowledge if the filmmaker's mode is chiefly ironic or synergetic; if the director's work chiefly becomes part of a contemporaneous post-modernism that sees less debt than borrowing, that the emphasis rests on the new that comes out of the material rather than accessing the wisdom of the earlier work. In other words if, as Jean-Francois Lyotard notes, one of the central aspects of the post-modern is that "it is no longer possible securely to separate the 'real' from the 'copy', or the 'natural' from the 'artificial'" ('Defining the Postmodern'), then this might depend on how post-modern the filmmaker happens to be, how completely they accept the self-reflexivity over the reflective, and thus find themselves synergetically working with the signs of an immediate culture that can play off each other for financial gain, or ironically assume that there is nothing new anyway so any borrowing need not seem like a debt. Almodovar's work more than most plays on the complexity of the three positions, and the work from the period under discussion (as well as more recent films like Julieta and Parallel Mothers), shows especially the tension between the ironic and the indebted. In All About My Mother, the film is indebted to Tennessee Williams and A Streetcar Named Desire, so embedding it into the material that it becomes part of the plot and not just the theme or the affect, which is why it might seem more trivial than the use of Pina Bausch at the beginning and end of Talk to Her. In the latter film, Bausch serves to activate the feelings of central character Marco as he watches the dance that opens the film. At the end of the film, as we have noted, he will be tearful again and the woman who has been in the coma, the former dancer who is still recovering and walking with a stick, will see him tear up once more and a connection is clearly evident. In contrast, in All About My Mother, Williams' work becomes part of the story when Manuela (Cecilia Roth) moves to Barcelona and the play is once again being performed. She befriends the cast and even gets to appear in the play after one of the actresses can't make the show. No matter the seriousness of the film, with the son dying near the beginning, and a key character dying after contracting HIV, the referential tone is light. Though the situation in which Manuela steps in is harrowing, the tone is not. The person who usually plays the role is a heroin addict who can't make the performance, and Manuela says she can cover the role: she knows the play by heart and, whether she can act or not, "I can lie very well and I am used to improvising." Here the reference point is as much All About Eve (hence the title) as A Streetcar Named Desire but little is made of Manuela stepping into another person's shoes. It is another of Almodovar's can-do moments that run through much of his work, where characters prove resourceful and capable. It might be Raimunda in Volver taking over a local restaurant and finding she can cook well for a film crew filming nearby, or here when Manuela's transgender friend goes on stage to say the performance has been cancelled but she will entertain them for a while instead, making the audience laugh and clap as she talks about her various bits of corrective surgery.
All About My Mother is at least as diegetically tragic a story as Talk to Her, but is tonally lighter, even if we accept it is part of Almodovar's more serious work. In the latter film, Marco's bullfighter lover dies after spending months in a coma, and the film's other leading character Benigno dies after the rape charge by taking some pills. But perhaps one reason why Talk to Her is the more weighty work rests on utilising its references and turning what could have been no more than the self-reflexive into the properly reflective. It isn't the seriousness of the art invoked (A Streetcar Named Desire versus Pina Bausch) but the seriousness with which Almodovar invokes the material. When Cat Powers is played over the images in Lanzarote, it suggests both a potentially tragic foretelling and the deepening of feeling between Lena and Mateo. When Almodovar then has the pair of them watching Voyage to Italy it deepens still, with the volcanic landscape Lena and Mateo are in matched by the visit to Vesuvius that the film shows. The couple in Voyage to Italy is sharing a moment that looks like it will allow them to stay together; Lena and Mateo are having a moment that suggests great intimacy and yet which the viewer may assume will be the birth of tragedy. After all, we know that Mateo becomes Harry Cain because of a loss in the past that we are now watching.
What we seem to be saying is that Almodovar's films are not deepened by the diegetic content, especially, but by the context he gives to the borrowings he has consistently insisted upon. By proposing that a filmmaker may work with the synergetic, ironic and the reflective, we can comprehend a little the referential in film and its ability to shape the tone of the material. This can even work within the context of how Almodovar incorporates within his newer material actors from his earlier films. In I'm So Excited, the director gives us one of his worst films partly because he emphasises the ironic and the synergetic, with Cruz, Banderas, Roth, Camara, and others cast with a too-knowing wink that shows these are actors who have a commercial value and where the audience knows their presence is part of the pleasure of playing a role but also playing themselves since the roles are so flimsy. Cruz and Banderas lend a commercial, synergetic value to the film without adding much in terms of character: anybody could have been cast for the depth of the role but nobody else could have carried the necessary knowingness. 'What I wanted to do was rediscover the tone of those early films." (Time Out) Almodovar said. But those early films had a Punkish need to push open doors that the director's underground scene would have otherwise found closed. Cruz and Banderas in I'm So Excited in their high-viz jackets look like they are slumming it; big stars playing small roles and characters well below their pay grade. Yet this doesn't mean brief roles need by superficial, and we have seen that Roth and Paredes have the smallest of parts in Talk to Her as they are in the audience listening to Velosa. We aren't even sure if they are playing themselves or playing characters and nor does it matter: their briefest of appearances signify the warmth and texture of the music; nothing more, perhaps, but certainly nothing less. They manage to keep us in the mood of the music without announcing their star status.
Film has perhaps more than any of the other arts an inevitable relationship with reflexivity; that, a combinatory art, it will invoke music, painting, theatre, sculpture, as well as interior and costume design, in the process of telling its stories. It then becomes a question of how far into the self-reflexive the film wishes to go when utilising the other arts it cannot avoid. When Almodovar insists he wants to capture life but push it a little further, it is this furthering into the aspects he cannot avoid using that makes for the Almodovarian. It is why he uses so ostentatious a designer as Jean-Paul Gaultier in Kika and The Skin I Live In. But more generally, Almodovar notes that "costumes have different meanings. On the one hand, they present the characters' social class, profession and tastes. On the other, they help me to define the colours I've chosen for the film, the general aesthetic of the narration. But costumes and fashion represent something more." (Hollywood Reporter) It is this something more that Almodovar consistently insists upon, as though the demands cinema makes on invoking the other arts to represent plausible spaces, becomes for Almodovar the opportunity to exaggerate the elements: he makes us aware if we are watching life we are even more watching an Almodovar film. Obviously no matter how realist the film, a film is being made. and in most instances a story is being told, and with an emphasis on the camerawork, music and acting which indicates the meaning the filmmakers seeks. But none of these elements need be pushed into any more than prosaic reflexivity, and there is a risk when one does so that the meaning is coming out of the realistic presentation is hampered by the meaning that is coming out of the deliberate relationship the film has with colour, costume, music and other aspects.
If we have been careful to separate different approaches to the self-reflexive by talking of the synergetic, the ironic and the reflective it is to make clear that referencing other artworks, making one's work self-conscious, won't lead to lightness or heaviness per se. One reason why Almodovar is a very useful filmmaker to focus upon when thinking through this problem is that he has adopted all three depending on the film and depending on which stage of his career. While Tarkovsky has been consistently reflective in his approach, and Tarantino consistently ironic and synergising in his, Almodovar has a constant and shifting relationship with the intertextual, with the intermedial. Sometimes, he borrows without expecting the pilfering to be noticed by the audience, oblivious to an unacknowledged theft. Speaking of music in 'High Heels', he says, "I stole two themes composed by George Fenton for Les Liaisons dangereuses without anyone noticing....I love the idea of stealing music composed for one film and giving it another meaning, a new life in another." (Almodovar on Almodovar) This is fair enough and shows that for all Almodovar's post-modern melanges, he is happy enough on occasion to borrow without showing us the promissory note.
Yet if Almodovar's films often appear more trivial than we would like, easier to watch than the subject might seem to demand, and less memorable than the affects they instantly produce, this may lie in an ontological timidity that often shows Almodovar seeking in his stories an appeal that some of his references resist. In Bad Education, Almodovar directly invokes David Hockney's Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) but moments before he allows it to be contextualised by a kitsch shot. The central character (Gael Garcia Bernal) dives into the swimming pool and the side-elevation camera shows the other main character (Fele Martinez) looking directly at his crotch. The potentially haunting complexity of desire is reduced to a gag, and the moment an ironic use of Hockney that the viewer may or may not notice as a reference, but will almost certainly see as irony demanded. If we talk of Almodovar's ontological timidity it rests on how often the ironic mode comes to rescue him from the potential profundity of the reflective.
Profundity is of course a dangerous word applied to the aesthetic; a common cliche of film criticism where so many films are profoundly moving. But when Tarkovsky uses Breughel's Hunters in the Snow or The Return of the Prodigal Son, he does so to insist on the edifice of a culture that his own work is placed upon, the huge accumulation that carries a burden of responsibility. There can be a troubling conservatism to such a position if it takes the form of a debt that can never be repaid; that the filmmaker is so beholden to the earlier artworks that the images don't have their own eupnea, their own breathing apparatus. Almodovar's freedom has always resided in that liberty to breathe and we shouldn't underestimate it. And yet we might wonder too if Almodovar's works are so easy to watch partly because the debt has often been inconsequentially light or consequentially categorial. "The first part of my career was highly influenced by the American underground, John Waters, Paul Morrisey, Russ Meyer, the Warhol factory..." (Almodovar on Almodovar) But these influences didn't much impact on the meaning of the work, while Power's song in Broken Embraces, the use of Pina Bausch in Talk to Her do. The more he creates a meditative space around the homage, the more significant the work becomes. It doesn't dilute the material but gives it a weight that needn't merely be a debt.
However, since Almodovar's work is intrinsically facetious, a product of post-modern playfulness, if the references are too light, too knowing, or too self-congratulatory, the work becomes vapid or weak. When he casts Cruz and Banderas in small roles in I'm Not Excited, they confirm their status as stars, and though their social status within the film is negligible (they work as ground technicians at the airport), their stardom allows for a contrast that confirms their celebrity. In contrast, in the scene with Paredes and Roth (smaller stars than Cruz and Banderas), we could easily see them as another couple of people listening to Veloso. Their roles are indeterminate even as the emotional resonance of their roles is strong. We watch them absorbed in the music, perhaps as characters, perhaps as themselves, and there is no reason to assume it can't be both. This applies of course not only to actors but also to films, works of art and music within the film. When in Live Flesh, we see The Criminal Life of Archibald de La Cruz, or watch two young boys watching Therese Raquin in gorgeous colour in Bad Education, the homage has little echo, which can best be described as a resonance between the figural and figurative; how in the doubling of an image one undermines rather than confirms the certitude of another. In Almodovar's use of Voyage to Italy in Broken Embraces he gives an odd and new texture to the film by showing us this couple on the couch at their most intimate, the couple on the screen at their most comprehending, and the volcanic landscape of the Canaries matching the Vesuvian eruption thousands of years earlier. Almodovar in a film that isn't his most challenging has opened up Time not too differently from that marvellous moment in In the Mood for Love when Tony Leung goes to Angkor Watt. However, the moment is contained within a film that often settles for Almodovarian facetiousness. Yet it is there, and there are moments too in Talk to Her, and late films like Julieta and Parallel Mothers. They show a director who has for a long time struggled to make his work textured in its theme without losing the convolutions of its plotting nor the witty reflexiveness of its style - the very things that led Infante to speak of Almodrama.
From such a perspective, if Almodovar is a post-modern filmmaker, a director steeped in intertextuality, in knowing that plots are exhausted and can only be resuscitated by irony and complication, in radical sexual mores and constantly contingent narrational possibilities, this doesn't mean there isn't a director who wishes to allow his thematic to evolve without being limited by its representation. It is perhaps not very often achieved and leads us to accept that Almodovar's films often feel retrospectively of less interest than during the viewing experience where the various forms of freshness keep us engaged. But compared to other directors who fall into the post-modern (Greenaway, Tarantino, Wes Anderson and the Coen Brothers), Almodovar more than most has sought a way out of his facetiousness. So on occasion have the others, which might be why the parenthetical inclusion may cause offence. But let that burden of proof fall on another critic, who might of course refuse such an offer, seeing the lightness of tone in these directors' works (and Almodovar's too), as the point and purpose, one which needs no elevation to justify the material. Yet if Almodovar's best films allow for a deepening of affect without a muting of his style, then this indicates that the self-reflexive, as the ironic and the synergetic, ought only to be part of the story not its justification.
© Tony McKibbin