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Summer Film Series continues

July 22, 2010

The second and third part of our “Women & Pedro Almodóvar ” event took place at the Public Library on Thursday and Monday evening. I was happy to have a large audience and get people’s reactions about Almodóvar’s work.

All about My Mother — the second film of the series– has a wonderful story, which touches on big themes such as love, friendship and motherhood. Like Broken Embraces, All about my mother explores the consequences of a tragic event: a nurse looses her son, recovers with the help of her friends and becomes a mother again. Almodóvar dedicated this film to “all the people who wanted to be mothers,” and his celebration of motherhood is a focal point in the movie.

Antonio Golan, a PhD student in the Culture and Communication Department, introduced the audience to the theme of the event. He made three important points. First, Almodóvar´s films tend to be about women rather than men.  In this film one notice see an absence of male figures (either because they have become men, or for other reasons). Second, Almodóvar is heavily influenced by melodrama (Sirk and Minelli), a genre traditionally associated with women. Third, his films are a departure from traditional anti-Franco movements in that it deals more with identity politics (rather than, for example, Marxism) and incorporates humor.   

The audience was wonderful. People asked about the role of women in Almodóvar’s work, his depiction of masculinity and interest in ‘gender confusion’. Questions such as whether Almodóvar’s movies take issue with a Victorian or a more contemporary notion of repressed sexuality, and whether the ‘camp’ element disturbs the authenticity of the play made me think harder. 

The third event evolved around Almodóvar’s 2002 Talk to her. Talk to her was my first Almodóvar movie. I remember my reaction very vividly. I was shocked, delighted, terrified, puzzled and in love. The movie managed to resuscitate a complex assembly of feelings, which I had trouble holding together. The haunting quality of Talk to her comes from the tragic dilemma that is at the heart of the movie.  A male nurse (Benigno) is very dedicated to taking care of one of his patients (Alicia). He falls in love with his comatose patient. Benigno’s dedication is a model for Marco, a journalist whose girlfriend (Lydia) is also in coma. Benigno rapes Alicia and is thrown to prison. The film left me torn. One side of me admires the dedication and love of Benigno for his comatose patient. The other side is horrified by Benigno’s brutal lack of boundaries with his patient and his rape. It hard to keep these two elements in tension, but the beauty of Almodóvar’s movie is that he suggests I need to.

 The audience was very engaged by the movie. A participant challenged my understanding that Benigno is the central character and suggested that Marco is the character around whom the story unfolds. Another person suggested that Almodóvar’s movie are poems and do not have to be read necessarily as pointing towards moral dilemmas.  A woman in the audience suggested that we do not need to overlook the horrible dimension of Benigno’s deed, while another woman responded that sexual abuse is generally committed in anger and that in this case Benigno was motivated by feelings others than anger.

 Almodóvar’s movies are thought-provoking experiences that challenge our understanding of gender roles and “inferior” cinematic genres. His focus on women brings to our cinematic ‘eye’ a complex structure of feelings, which requires the viewer to work hard in sorting them out. His interest in melodrama transforms the genre by adding different dimensions to it (kitsch or camp elements). One of my friends who came to the screenings pointed out another reason why Almodovar is captivating. He suggested that the beauty of Almodóvar’s work resides in the extraordinary complexity of his characters. In Talk to her, the Spanish director fleshes out fascinating and multifaceted characters, which capture the complexity of our lives. From the responses of the audience, I could say that Almodóvar’s work puzzles, delights and provokes people’s reactions in important ways.         

– blog post by Bogdan Popa, organizer for the Women & Almodovar film series

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