Pedro Almodovar is undeniably one of the great film auteur's of our age, having defined decade's worth of Spanish national cinema. As stated by Isabel Cadalso "By the time Franco's death released Spain's seething subculture, Almodovar was at the centre of it." (Cadalso)His combination of witty, flamboyant and daring scripts, brilliant performative actors and the vibrant setting of Spanish culture in Madrid always manage provide an in depth insight into the turbulent lives of his characters. "Madrid has figured prominently in Pedro Almodovar's cinema, gradually coming into focus as the implicit protagonist of nearly every work. In these films, the city is regularly images as a cultural force, producing forms of expression and action that challenge traditional values by tearing down and rebuilding the moral institutions of Spanish life: the family, the church and the law." (D'Lugo)There are always many layers to Almodovar's films, particularly in the setting and social context, usually being Madrid. Throughout his career we can see how they have developed with the changing political climate of Spain as well as his maturing age, with his films being particularly different from the 80's to the 90's and onwards. Madrid is a metaphorical subtext in his films in many different ways, be it relating to characters, situations they are in or the political climate. As stated in A Punk called Pedro "Madrid functions as a 'character', breaking down boundaries between the public and the private arenas. Madrid provides a framework for the new interactions between social behaviours and 'becomes the site of a radical series of social desires." (Toribio) Madrid is a place for Almodovar's character's where "They are able to seek kindred spirits in an atmosphere that... is socially liberating and the impetus for new artistic creativity." (Toribio) As the city it changes, adapts and explains much of the action that is not in Almodovar's films.
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Early in Almodovar's career, he directed two fantastic, yet very different films; Labyrinth of Passion and Matador. These films were both critically acclaimed and duly noted for their vibrant display of Madrid as setting and as a representation of the new Spanish culture. As written in Pedro Almodovar: A Spanish Perspective during the 1980's"Spain was experiencing a fascinating period of giddy and radical changes. It was a country thousands of miles away from the distorted portrait Franco had shown to the rest of the world, a portrait that fit only within the hypocritical moral values of a dictatorship." (Cadalso)It was during this period that Almodovar thrived and these two films were made. "Madrid is the realistic, almost unaltered decor in which Pepi, Luci, Bom and Labyrinth of Passion were filmed and in which the characters could move more freely, reflecting the experience of a generation of Spaniards, like Almodovar himself, who could only quench their thirst for creativity in the large urban areas: cityscapes in these early films tend to emphasize the concept of physical movement and social mobility underscored the very word, Movida, 'movement.'" (Toribio) We can see in Labyrinth of Passion the colourful new wave of Spanish culture, so vibrant and different to anything previously known to Spain. A prime example of this is in El Rastro a Sunday street market of Madrid, which "was an important showcase for all subcultures, but significantly for the movida, because of its unsanctioned and vaguely transgressive status. It was used as a meeting place and some stalls displayed their fanzines, records of emergent punk groups etc. For this reason it is an apt setting for Labyrinth of Passion (1982), especially the opening scene where it becomes Sexilia's 'shopping area' for sex partners." (Toribio)We see the completely different society to that of what we would have seen under the Francoist regime, there is liberty and freedom, life and passion, which had not been experienced before, culminating in a paradise of difference. As kinder states "The tortuously complex plot follows the tangled passions of an ensemble of young Madrilènes trying to escape the crippling influences of repressive fathers in order to pursue their own pleasure." (Kinder) The subtext of Madrid is telling us how "...The Castilian director unfolded his passions amid a society that had just started to enjoy its own freedom. His uncontrolled and colourful films found a receptive audience in a population that was eager for spontaneity and light, for new stimuli that could again bring joy to the living. The Mediterranean spirit of freedom had been squeezed for four decades, and suddenly there was Almodovar, who dared to show on screen all the passion that previously had been politically impossible for Spanish society or its arts to express." (Cadalso)We see as Sexilia moves through the city how there are many kindred spirits reciprocating the feeling and the buzz, yet there are also occasionally "non-movida city people, dressed in drab colours and expressionless, provide a background against which Sexilia, in her colourful attire, is distanced from the Spain they conjure up." (Toribio)This heightens her difference from traditional Spain and the old regime. "In hiding the city's shortcomings Almodovar was able to reveal the mood of the country once more as it progressed through the initial euphoria of democracy into disenchantment." (Toribio) This shows how Maria fits into the Madrid setting and population easily with the new mentality and expressionism present in the place and her peers.
In Matador we also see the new Spanish mentality evidenced through Madrid and its citizens. As stated in Pleasure and the New Spanish Mentality, it is "a fast paced revolt that relentlessly pursues pleasure rather than power and a post modern erasure of all repressive boundaries and taboo's associated with Spain's medieval, fascist and modernist heritage." (Kinder) We see Diego furiously masturbating to dead bodies and mutilation, Maria stalking her prey in the dusty court yards of Madrid and Angel training to be a Matador in the bull fighting school. The setting of Madrid allows these events to be believable as it is part of Spanish culture to fight bulls as well as being renowned rampant lovers. Almodovar says "... I believe that our culture is more visceral. Intuition and imagination influence us more than reason. There is more adventure and spontaneity. We don't fear disorder or chaos." (Kinder)Appreciating this we see characters not traditional of Madrid or even Spain. To many, out of this context the events and people would seem perverted or unbelievable, yet Almodovar's style and use of Madrid and its social context allow us the insight to look past the moral conflict we may experience. As Almodovar himself stated "I always try to choose prototypes and characters on modern day Madrid, who are somehow representative of a certain mentality existing today, I think that since Franco died new generations have been coming to the fore, generations that are unrelated to former ones, that are unrelated to the 'progressive' generations that appeared during the last years of dictatorship. How do people 20 years old live in Madrid? Its quite complex... The characters in my films utterly break with the past, which is to say that most of them, for example, are apolitical." (Kinder)We can see how Spain has changed more in Almodovar's films simply by viewing them, as this kind of film would never had been made under Franco. This is evidenced by another quote from Almodovar where he explains his films; "They represent more than others, I suppose, the new Spain, this kind of new mentality that appears in Spain after Franco dies. Above all, after 1977 till now. Stories about the New Spain have appeared in the mass media of every country. Everybody has heard that now everything is different in Spain, that it has changed a lot, but it is not so easy to find this change in the Spanish cinema. I think in my films they see how Spain has changed, above all, because now it is possible to do this kind of film here." (Kinder)This is clearly shown and epitomised through his use of Madrid as the setting. The subtext of the city allows us an insight into the change of Spain as a whole.
If we analyse Matador in a much more literal sense we can gather an even greater insight into the new Spanish mentality. It shows many famous and recognisable locations such as the scene where Maria is on the bridge and Diego is looking up at her after following her through Madrid. The bridges location "is the 'Segovia Viaduct' in southern Madrid, a notorious suicide spot since the nineteenth century." (Smith, Desire Unlimited: The Cinema of Pedro Almodovar)This provides an understanding of the character of Maria and her internal conflicts for natives of Spain who know the significance of this bridge, yet for the international audience it is still enough of a clue to foreshadow the film. Almodovar also makes a cameo appearance as the designer in the fashion show, that Eva is part of, where "... he tells scatty reporter Veronica Forque that the show is called 'Spain Divided', because Spaniards are either envious or intolerant. Almodovar thus invokes, parodically, the topos of 'the two Spain's', of the painful divisions notorious in Spanish history, but in a playful register which deprives such clichés of their continuing resonance. (Smith, Desire Unlimited: The Cinema of Pedro Almodovar)His use of Madrid as a forum for these insights allows the viewer an in depth comprehension of the social subtext prevalent in post modern Spanish culture. Almodovar states "We have consciously left behind many prejudices, and we have humanised our problems. We have lost the fear of earthly power (the police) and of celestial power (the church), and we have also lost our provincial certainty that we are superior to the rest of the world - that typical Latin prepotency. And we have become more sceptical, without losing the joy of living. We don't have confidence in the future, but we are constructing a past ourselves because we don't like the one we had." (Kinder) It is this kind of New Spanish Mentality that he shows in Madrid, representing Spain as a whole.
Moving into the 1990's we see a slightly different take In Almodovar's films, particularly in Live Flesh, where he directly confronts Franco and his regime at the beginning and culmination of his film. It was highly popular as it showed a maturing of Almodovar "and its appeal to social and historical issues was untouched by the director's previous films." (Smith, Live Flesh) He states "Yes, my relationship with Madrid is less intense now. Being known makes it harder for me to have a relationship with the reality of the city. And if I don't know it, I don't deal with it; I move to the reality of interiors. It's something like a married couple who are together out of habit, but I'm longing to leave for other places." (Delgado)This could be why he shows Madrid in a past time of turmoil where its citizen's were scared and helpless, rather than the times he thrived in and is most known for portraying in his films. "Madrid, however, is not a static setting. Almodovar increasingly manipulates our view of the city scape and adapts the mis en scene to the social advancement of his characters." (Toribio)Madrid changes as a setting as Victor matures throughout the film, it is a symbiotic relationship where "both Spain and Victor are decidedly different and better at the end of the film. (Smith, Live Flesh) Through the subtext in Live Flesh we see what it was like in the past to be Spanish and how society rapidly changed when freedom was given.
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If we analyse the opening and closing in particular of Live Flesh it begins in Madrid "with the ominous tones of the Francoist minister Manuel Fraga (still today a leading politician)announcing the suspension of what few civil liberties Spaniards enjoyed under Franco; it closes, boldly, at Christmas a quarter of a century later with a voice over from Victor stating that, 'A long time ago we stopped being afraid of Spain.' The political framing of the personal melodrama makes Almodovar's collective protagonist (the five central figures) the embodiment of a national narrative whose grand theme is the shift from dictatorship to democracy." (Smith, Live Flesh) From the beginning of the film we are thrust into a lonely and isolated Madrid, where no one is free and they are only out to survive, evidenced by the bus driver who is unwilling to help a pregnant woman in need. Citizens liberties are nearly non-existent, shown by the empty plaza's. Madrid is used in particular for this scene as it is "Removed from the provinces and the rural setting that were so familiar in Francoist cinema, the city is the only milieu in which Almodovar's characters function. As D'Lugo points out, this may be partly because the rural and provincial settings were used to epitomize the purity of moral values which his characters reject." (Toribio)This again is evidenced by Paul Julian Smith claiming Victor's birth is a "new Nativity (with a bus taking the place of Christ's stable) played out at a portentous time and place: a 'state of exception' in the dying days of the Francoist regime and a spectral, deserted Madrid, lit only by tawdry neon decorations." (Smith, Live Flesh)The Madrid setting and subtext signifies the political situation the country has been immersed in. As we progress through the film and the characters develop more and more, we see how important Madrid is as a setting: "by placing the characters in perfect settings 'where all their social and professional needs have been met', Almodovar has fulfilled his theory of contentment within the diegesis: the characters have no external worries and can concentrate on affairs of the heart." (Toribio)This is possibly why Almodovar's films storyline's and content are more accepted and believable. Madrid is the perfect setting because it encapsulates the buzz and hype of the social context but changes and adapts with the characters, allowing a deeper perception of the film.
Madrid is an effective subtext in most of Almodovar's films. As Toribio claims "We may conclude that what comes out in the treatment of Madrid as part of the mis-en-scene is the directors own anxieties and fears inspired by a country in which the 1980's cosmetic changes have not been reflected in factual change." (Toribio)We are able to see how Madrid is very personal to Almodovar himself and his characters. The subtext of the city allows us to see the change the country has undergone to get to where it is today, mirroring the characters at the conclusion of the film. Madrid is embraced and "an essential axis of meaning in much of his filmic work," while the "icons of Francoist cinema - those related to religion, the family, and sexual repression - are set up as foils to stimulate the audience to embrace a new post-Francoist cultural aesthetic" that ever present in Madrid. (D'Lugo) To summarise, as D'Lugo states, Madrid and "This foregrounding of the city as an assertion of a vibrant Spanish cultural identity is built around a rejection of the traditions that ordered Spanish social life for four decades." (D'Lugo)
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