Arguably Spain’s most influential filmmaker, Pedro Almodóvar emerged as part of the movida madrileña, the thriving alternative cultural scene in Madrid that developed following the death of Franco. He made his feature-film debut in 1980 with the cheap and transgressive Pepi, Lucy, Bom and a Whole Load of Other Girls. His prodigious output during the 1980s included Matador (1986), a dark thriller linking sexual excitement with the violence of the bullfight; The Law of Desire (1987), a story involving a gay film director, his transsexual brother/sister, murder and incest; as well as the internationally successful Women on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988). Madrid was used as the backdrop to many of his films, which reflected the spirit of liberation that reigned in the Spanish capital in the 1980s.
His productions have benefited from the performances of actors such as Carmen Maura, Victoria Abril, Rossy de Palma and Antonio Banderas, and over time they have gained in narrative coherence and production values while retaining the capacity to offend – notably with Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down (1990). One of the very few directors able to attract audiences across the globe with films in a language other than English, Almodóvar’s 1995 Flower of My Secret pushed him more into the mainstream, while All About My Mother (1999), which marked a return to his trademark obsession with transsexuals, won him an Oscar for Best Foreign Film. Talk to Her (2002) was if anything even more successful, and won Almodóvar another Oscar, this time for Best Screenplay – perhaps marking Spanish cinema’s escape from the “foreign films” ghetto. In Bad Education (2004), he explored Franco-era religious schooling and the issue of sexual abuse by the Catholic clergy, while in the well-received Volver (Returning) (2006), which starred Penélope Cruz, he looked to his own childhood in La Mancha and to his sisters and late mother for inspiration. He revisited many of his favourite themes in the romantic thriller Los Abrazos Rotos (2009), which also starred Cruz, and although the film did not reach the heights of some of his previous work, it still served to strengthen his reputation as Spain’s leading director.