The Pedro Almodóvar Collection

Pedro Almodóvar's latest film The Skin I Live In, a psychological thriller starring Antonio Banderas, is out this week, but as usual for a subtitled film, it is only receiving a limited release in the UK. So whilst we're waiting to catch up with it, we might as well settle down with some sangria and tapas and whet our appetites with the The Pedro Almodóvar Collection box-set. Almodóvar is one of Spain's most successful film-makers, whose sexy and colourful films examine themes like identity, sexuality, religion and relationships with a great deal of humour and invention. In Almodóvar's films, he takes the kind of oddball characters we normally see in one-dimensional supporting roles and puts them front and centre, placing them in unusual stories that are somewhat improbable, but often very entertaining. The four films below are perfect examples.

Volver (2006) is an off-centre comedy-drama about familial relationships as two sisters return to their home-town for a funeral and learn that the ghost of their dead mother has apparently been making appearances in the town. The film meanders a little in getting to the bottom of the mystery, but it's never less than enjoyable and has great performances, especially from the luminous Penelope Cruz, who was Oscar-nominated. There are occasional contrivances and tangents, but the overall warmth of the film helps overcome this and there must be more than one Hollywood actress sitting there who wish that US films offered such strong female roles as this.

Bad Education (2004) tackles the thorny subject of clerical child abuse, but wraps it up in the guise of an intriguing mystery thriller. It tells of struggling film-maker Enrique whose childhood friend Ignacio turns up unexpectedly asking him to make a film of their experiences at a Catholic boarding school, where Ignacio was abused by a priest. But Ignacio seems different somehow and when the priest also makes a reappearance, the scene is set for some shocking revelations. With this framework, the film explores issues of identity and gender, whilst the movie-within-a-movie element gives it a disorientating mix of reality and fiction which will likely wrongfoot you a few times before you figure it all out. The frank dealings with sexual matters may be uncomfortable for some and perhaps it's a bit too convoluted for its own good, but fans of Latin heartthrob Gael García Bernal will be delighted to hear he looks great as both a man and a woman. So, something for everyone.

Talk to Her (2002) focuses on the friendship that develops between two men who meet at a hospital where each of them is caring for a woman they love. Beningo is a sensitive male nurse who diligently cares for a beautiful comatose patient, whilst Marco is a more macho character who struggles to articulate his feelings for his girlfriend, who also lies comatose after an accident (a bull-fighting accident, no less!). As the men connect, flashbacks reveal more about the relationships between both couples, whilst the events in the present develop in surprising and compelling directions. It's a wonderfully intricate bitter-sweet drama about relationships which won a deserved Best Screenplay Oscar for it's superb story.

Finally, we have All About My Mother (1999), the highpoint of Almodóvar's career thus far and one of the best movies of the 1990s. When her son is killed in an accident, grieving Manuela (the superb Cecilia Roth) travels to Barcelona to break the news to the boy's father, who is unaware he has a son. There, she faces up to issues from her past and becomes a kind of surrogate mother figure to an odd collection of characters, including a pregnant nun, a transsexual prostitute and a drug addict. In anyone else's hands this might seem like the set-up for a ridiculous comedy, but with Almodóvar in charge it becomes a warm and witty tale, brilliantly acted, masterfully constructed and immensely moving. It's a heartfelt tribute to women and the roles they must play in life so it is fitting that Almodóvar dedicates the film "To all the people who want to be mothers. To my mother." A great film.

Almodóvar has been described as a great director of women, a throwback to the Golden Age of Hollywood, when many movies were centred around strong female characters, played by the likes of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. It's certainly true that his film's offer great roles for women -mainstream 'chick flicks' would take a lot less flak if they took a leaf out of his book. But the reasons for Almodóvar's success, both commercially and critically,  is probably simpler than that and is best summed up by Almodóvar himself. "It's important not to forget that films are made to entertain," he said, "that's the key." And for that clear-eyed perspective, we can only say 'Gracias, Pedro. Muchas gracias'.

Pedro Almodovar discusses his career at the launch
of his film Broken Embraces (2009)

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