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Summer Film Series off to great start

July 9, 2010

The first event from the “Women & Pedro Almodovar” series – the screening of Broken Embraces– was recently held at the Monroe County Public Library. The event is funded by the Western European Studies Center, and I had a lot of help in organizing it from Eric, Amanda and Brant.

 To my surprise, I had between seventy and eighty people in the audience. I was expecting not more than thirty, but I think WEST’s resources and Almodovar’s name made the difference. It also helped that Broken Embraces is still in some theatres in the US.

 Why an event about a Spanish director and women? Or differently put, why do I like Almodovar so much? Well, what comes to my mind is the incredible response that my female friends have to his films. I watched Volver a week ago with a friend of mine- we were cooking and watching the movie for four hours- and Jenna said, “I just love this moment when Penelope Cruz is asked by her boss how is she doing and she says ‘Well, I am a mess.’ ” “Of course,” Jenna goes on, “she said she is a mess, but at the same time she takes care of her family, starts her own business, and buries the body of her ex-boyfriend.”

 The other reason I like Almodovar so much is that he speaks so much about women’s experience and oppression. Of course, one would no find in his movies words like patriarchy, or gender inequality, or oppression. When I think about Volver, however, I am struck by how clearly Almodovar describes the reproduction of trauma within families. Raimunda (Penelope Cruz) is raped by her father, and her boyfriend also threatens her daughter with rape. In the world of sexual abuse, however, the emotional work of grandmothers, mothers and sisters brings an end to violence. Almodovar’s topic is extremely delicate and heavy, but the Spanish director is a master in giving us a gentle, light and insightful angle.

 Like Volver, Broken Embraces speaks about violence to women and healing. Lena (played again by Penelope Cruz) founds herself in a bad relationship with a violent, homophobic boyfriend. Her love story with Mateo Blanco, however, shows potential for a happier life. After Lena’s death, her disabled lover (Lluis Homar) starts to heal himself by reconstructing the circumstances of Lena’s death. In this process, he is brought back to a new life with the help of his caretakers, Judit (Blanca Portillo) and Diego (Tamar Novas). Almodovar is at his best when he describes injuries caused by abuse and the work of healing, which follows traumatic events.

 A wonderful review of the movie is A. O. Scott’s piece in the NYT:

 Next screening is “All About My Mother” (July 15th), and I intend to have a special guest who will speak about Spain, public memory and Almodovar. Please stay tuned for more exciting updates!

~blog post by Bogdan Popa, event coordinator

Bogdan Popa will lead a discussion concerning Almodóvar’s portrayal of women following each screening. He is a visiting scholar from the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at the University of Michigan. Bogdan’s main research interests are feminist theory, critical theory, and psychoanalysis, focusing on the intersection between relational psychoanalysis and critiques of domination

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