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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > September 2016 > All about Almodóvar

All about Almodóvar

The film director’s vision liberated Spanish culture from the Franco era, argues Miranda France

Pedro Almodóvar’s childhood plays out like a scene from one of his films. A little boy, sent away from his village in La Mancha to be educated by salacious priests, takes refuge in the cinema at the end of the street. The setting is Extremadura, in Spain’s arid heartland, where the light is thick and yellow. In the dark cinema, Hollywood divas flicker in alluring close-up. The seminary’s director warns that watching American films may send little Pedro to hell. His friends think it’s odd that he’s more interested in the love life of Ava Gardner than in the usual childhood games. Cue transsexuals, a bullfighter and a plangent bolero.

Those last three elements aside (they came later) it’s curious how many of the themes that preoccupy Almodóvar, now 66, have been with him from the start: Hollywood glamour, religious oppression, the liberating power of transgression, the love of family. The filmmaker, whose work is being celebrated by the British Film Institute in a season running throughout August and September, has made a colourful career of his obsessions. That, in turn, has made him the world’s most famous film director not working in English. “In terms of dramatic creativity there are three Spanish icons,” says academic and critic Maria Delgado: “Cervantes, Lorca and Almodóvar.”

Like Cervantes, Almodóvar comes from La Mancha and like Lorca, his childhood was, in his own words, “very folkloric.” His father hauled barrels of wine by mule. His mother read and wrote letters for illiterate neighbours in the village and taught Almodóvar to do the same. In 1949, the year he was born, poverty in Spain was such that whole villages in the south abandoned their homes and migrated north looking for work. In the early 1960s, Spain’s ruler General Franco approved an apertura, a cautious opening of the country to foreign influences, partly intended to encourage tourism. Its unintended consequence was to show young Spaniards how different life could be.

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In Prospect’s September issue: Paul Johnson argues that there is no getting away from the fact our economic prospects have got worse post-Brexit. Paul Wallace attempts to outline how the government will try and deal with that situation, while Nicolas Véron suggests that The City of London will decline outside the European Union. On a brighter note, Clive James explores what we can learn from the television show Mad Men. Also in this issue: Patience Wheatcroft, the Conservative peer, suggests that Brexit might not be a done deal with a rebellion in the Lords possible. Thomas Chatterton Williams explores the work and Beyoncé and argues that black artists are failing to say anything profound and James Dyson outlines how he would rule the world.
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