• Julia Sumzina

Genre, Color and Movement in the films by Pedro Almodóvar

The article is based on the knowledge got from the Future Learn: HISPANIC FILM AND CULTURE PURDUE UNIVERSITY course.


Genre, editing, color... all these things are very interesting for everyone who loves cinema and watches it thinking about how one or another film was made. I want to write a little about this taking the works by world famous Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar as examples.


Who is Pedro Almodóvar? A provoker? A star? An artist? For me he is just an individuality, the person who has his own view and tries to talk about problems, passions and humanity by the way he can. His films are worldwide famous and Pedro as a director is an idol for many young filmmakers. Let's look at “typical Almodóvar” scene from his “Law of Desire” (La Ley del Deseo) and the performance of Pedro's muse Carmen Maura.

Firstly I want to say few words about the genre. It's quite difficult to find one traditional genre to characterize Almodóvar's films. The term “screwball comedy” can refer to a cycle of films that offered escapist humor and romance in the Great Depression. It can be used for describing a genre of romantic comedy with farcical situations, a mixture of slapstick humor and quick and witty repartee, and a plot involving courtship and marriage or remarriage. Almodóvar’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown has many of these elements, but a “happy ending” may just as easily come from finding independence as from finding a partner. “Melodrama” is a dramatic work that is usually sensational designed to appeal to the emotions. The word combines “melos” (Greek for “honey, sweetness, and music”) and drama. Film melodramas from the 40s and 50s often involved domestic situations, and usually had female protagonists. The term is often used disparagingly, and there is even a phrase, “female weepy,” to describe films that purportedly offer the opportunity for a “good cry.” Almodóvar is famous for using generic elements in a new way and reinvigorating them. He also likes to blend genre expectations, and has coined the phrase “screwball melodrama” to describe some of his films. Which colors do you imagine when you're thinking about Spain? “Spain,” for many foreigners is associated with Andalucía, with flashing colors they associate with flamenco and historical treasures like the Alhambra. In 1845, Prosper Mérimée published Carmen, the novella about a French anthropologist who travels to Spain to study the “exotic” world of Gypsies. That in turn inspired Bizet’s opera of the same name, which has thrilled audiences (and influenced their idea of what is Spain) for a century and a half. In reality Spain is very different. White and green Madrid, beige and orange Valencia, deep Green Galicia... And the native for Almodovar Castilla during the era of Franco. What did it look like? In the humble Castilian small town where Pedro Almodóvar spent his early life, austerity was all around. Whitewashed walls, dark beams, and widows in black abounded. Dressing “discreetly” was encouraged for women, and everywhere, you could find examples of the somber atmosphere that the poet Antonio Machado described in “Campos de Castilla” (Countryside of Castile). When we talk about the Almodóvar look, obviously, we do not mean to imply that he invented colors; only that he took them from a variety of surprising sources and combined them in new and original ways, giving them purposes and locations that delight the viewer. He left the austerity of his childhood behind. The results are as unexpected as refreshing. Now, we have to mention that traditional Spanish color was the walls could be white or white. . White was the color for the exterior of all of those houses on the Mediterranean coast. It can be very charming, but it's white again. So in Almodóvar color even in the early films was an explosion of excitement, it was something that was very unexpected.

Here's the scene from Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Look at the way he combines the polka dots in her shirt with the wallpaper, very bold. That is not traditional Spanish wallpaper, let me tell you, and the phone. Here's that scene of Pippa's balcony in the same movie. It's very obviously a set, there's no attempt to appear real there. She's got, unlike the traditional Spanish home, she's got a beach ball, she's got patio furniture.

Here's another scene from Women on the Verge. You notice how the blue recedes and causes you to feel lonely, a bright red phone in her hands.

Here is an interior from Broken Embraces in 2009.

He also uses it in character development. Again, let's look at Kika. Kika in the middle is the main character played by Verónica Forqué. She's a very warm person, and she's always dressed in warm colors. And exciting earrings as you can see, the accessories are always kinda campy and funny. There she is in red with this colorful background.


Here's a scene from Volver. There, one of the characters who is dying of cancer is filmed in cool colors against matte backgrounds. As you may recall, the main character is in vivid tones of red.

Another thing that Almodóvar does with great ingenuity is the use of odd camera angles. And we're used to seeing a certain film grammar, a certain way of looking at the world. By contrast, Almodóvar does very unusual things to help us understand his stories. Here's a scene from Matador, this is the girlfriend of one of the main characters. He's actually a psycho killer, so it's not surprising that she, who is fairly normal, cannot see him. But there's this distance of the fence between them, the weird way that she's looking, emphasizes the separation between them.

He uses different angles, zoom and close-ups when tries to highlight something, we can see even the different makeup and accessories which depend on the personality of the particular character. So, we can analyze Pedro Almodóvar and his films again and again, find new interesting features in every of his films and never get bored.


Text: Julia Sumzina (@js_artsreview )

Video: ElDeseoPC

Illistrations: film stills and screencaps

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