Saturday, July 18, 2009

All About Almodovar

By David Luhrssen
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Pedro Almovodar’s films are latticed with multiple meanings, but of what exactly? A new essay collection, AllAbout Almodovar: A Passion for Cinema (published by University of Minnesota Press), examines the Spanish director from more than a dozen angles. And yet, editors Brad Epps and Despina Kakoudaki admit their book isn’t all that can be said about Almodovar.

The international audience the filmmaker developed after the success of Women at the Edge of a NervousBreakdown (1988) tended to focus on the most obvious aspects of his work, especially its outrageous humor and gay sensibility. The academics represented in All About Almodovar can’t escape the obvious, yet they find much else to consider. What does it mean that melodrama and comedy are difficult to distinguish in many of his movies? Or that consoling warmth can be found at the heart of his tragedies? Like many artists of his generation, he was fascinated by kitsch and trash, recycling once fashionable but long discarded products. A sense of deliberate camp was balanced by genuine love for classic Hollywood.

Perhaps one of the essayists’ most profound if obvious observations has to do with the cultural specificity of comedy. Almodovar is funnier in Spanish than in translation. Building on that insight, understanding the local concerns of the director add levels of association that have largely escaped his audience on the international art house circuit.

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