There was something so painful in Raimunda’s moistened dark eyes as she sang the song ‘Volver’, that I couldn’t help hoping for her, like a loved one, that her life turns out well. In this intimate disrobing of character by Almodovar, with nothing but a camera tenderly caressing the stunning Cruz’s profile, he reminds us that her well wrapped fragility beneath the cloak of fearless determination is constantly returning to haunt her.
Suffering is never easy to portray in art and in the hands of Almodovar, it becomes a metaphor for raw humanity. His women are always strong, his visuals very colourful, his stories simple but characters, complex and his movies constantly challenging the viewer: disturbing themes of violence, drugs and sexuality are liberally crafted throughout his movies and yet there is poignancy in them. If ‘Bad Education’ was a distressing reality of childhood trauma and its repercussions, it is also a pinnacle of the film noir. In a superbly enacted (by the immensely talented Gael Garcia Bernal) film of twisted plots and layered narratives, Almadovar wraps it up neatly without the need to have a single female artist, which is a total contrast to most of his films which have female characters that are survivors regardless of the presence of the opposite sex in their lives. His women simply rely on themselves or on each other to give them the strength to pull through.
Almodovar simply doesn’t tell stories though. He tells a story, along with another story, perhaps having a story enacted on stage as well, or even some being played on the TV. Tennessee Williams’ play ‘All about Eve’ is a recurrent theme in his widely acclaimed and aptly titled ‘All about my mother’, as are the odes to the likes of Sophia Loren (Volver), Audrey Hepburn (Broken Embraces) and the terrific Hitchcockian hues in several of his films: The knife is a constant reminder of a crime that has been committed in ‘Volver’; the imminent accident with the bull fighting incident in ‘Talk to Her’; the persistent rain as the young Esteban waits for an autograph in ‘All about my mother’ somehow tells us that something awful is going to happen. It is with these subtleties that he has somehow evolved, over the past three decades, in a very complex and mature manner from his earlier films such as ‘Atame’, which somehow did not impress me much for its misogynist overtones as did the tepid ‘Live Flesh’.
I have not watched all of his films and shall perhaps not invest in his earlier films. Despite my reservations against some of his unique choices, there is no ignoring the fact that this intrepid filmmaker has contributed to some of the most unique films, for propagating Spanish cinema and for carving a style that cannot be called ‘Almadovaresque’.