When first learning about auteurs, it was Almodóvar’s name that was first whispered into my ear. To me, he is the epitome of auteurs with themes, narratives and visual styles all reeking of Almodóvar’s signature scent. He unashamedly is who he is. Spanish, flamboyant with a whole lot of heart. When Hitchcock’s World announced this fantastic blogathon, no one else crossed my mind.
On the basis that I was the first person to chose Almodóvar and that I chose a director who is not the usual white, straight, American guy… here are the rules:
1. Pick one director and identify his or her first feature film. It must be the first feature film (i.e. over one hour runtime) listed in her/his filmography.
2. While you will be primarily discussing that one film, you should have an understanding at least some of the director’s later films, enough to be able to recognize his or her style.
3. Analyse your chosen film in relation to the director’s later projects. What elements of his or her style do you see here?
4. Keep in mind that this blogathon is based on critical thinking and analysis, not simply on whether you liked the film. Your post should not be so much on the film itself as what it says about the director.
I was slightly cheeky with this one because Almodóvar’s first feature was not Pepi Luci Bom (1980) which is the film I’m going to be looking at but Folle… folle… fólleme Tim! (1978). This is against the rules. However, Hitchcock’s World let me look at Pepi Luci Bom (1980) instead. Considering Almodóvar himself does not want any of his early films to be printed because of how amateur they are, and that only 21 people have seen Folle… folle… fólleme Tim!, it frankly may as well not exist. Since no copies are said to exist, it probably doesn’t. So, with that minor detail explained, let’s begin!
About Pepi Luci Bom
Pepi Luci Bom (1980) follows the women of it’s title. Pepi is a young, vibrant woman living in Madrid on her parent’s money and owns a sizeable but modest array of marijuana plants. When Pepi gets raped by a policeman, she befriends the policeman’s plain wife, Luci, and asks her to teach her to knit in an effort to affect her revenge. Wrapped up in the madness is Bom, a punk singer that Pepi asks to beat up the Policeman (but instead beats up his identical twin). Noticing Bom’s aggressive behaviour that she becomes attracted by, Luci and Bom become lovers. Trouble ensues!
It’s really hard to know where to begin. I immediately see dozens of traits evident in Pepi Luci Bom which come up again in subsequent films. However, it may help to know a bit more about Almodóvar before I continue. He grew up in Spain where at the age of eight his parents sent him away to Boarding School. This was in the hopes he would become a Priest. Wow, did that not happen! At the end of the 1960s, Almodóvar moved to Madrid to become a filmmaker.
You’ve got to remember at this time General Franco was still dictator in Spain and ran an oppressive regime. After he died in the 1970s, Spain, but particularly Madrid, flourished with new creative freedom. Almodóvar is a gay man and also sang in a punk band duo when he was in his younger days. And despite their clear difference of opinion, he is said to have been very, very close to his mother. He adored his mother and women alike. All this can be seen in Pepi Luci Bom and many times over in his later films.
Lead female characters
Firstly, there’s the strong female characters. Pepi is very assertive and matter-of-fact. Even when she is raped, she doesn’t crumble into victimhood. She instead exacts her revenge on the man who raped her. This particular storyline and how it is presented crosses over to another of Almodovar’s traits, Melodrama, but we’ll move onto that later. There’s a plethora of strong women in Almodovar’s films. The first that comes to my mind is Lydia in Talk To Her (2002). She’s a frickin’ bull fighter for crying out loud.
Then there’s Gloria in What Have I done to Deserve This? (1984). Who, granted, makes some bad choices, but she stands up for herself against domestic abuse. Another is Manuela in All About My Mother (1999) who has to make some tough decisions and stays strong through the most tragic circumstances. In fact, most of the strong women in Almodóvar’s films prove their worth by how they choose to react to tough situations. They don’t take it lying down, they don’t crumble. They keep going.
Sisters doin’ it for themselves
Not only do women take centre stage in Almodóvar’s films, female companionship and camaraderie also play a key role. Just from the title you can decipher that Pepi Luci Bom is about three women. And the film is very much about how the three women interact and the changing relationship dynamics between the three of them due to outside influences. Other films whose plots revolve around many female leads are Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988) and Volver (2006) which is about two sisters.
In fact, I would include All About My Mother in this because every main character is either a woman or trans woman. Though it cannot be deciphered from Pepi Luci Bom, mother and child relationships are also a big Almodóvar theme. Also death and loss was a big theme later, which could be stemmed from his mother’s illness and eventual death in 1999. But since these themes aren’t big in Pepi Luci Bom, I shall move on!
Overtly Sexual Narratives/Characters
Overtly sexual narratives and highly sexualised characters with a melting pot of sexualities is a quintessential Almodóvar theme. Almodóvar is of course an openly gay man and hasn’t shied away from putting sexuality at the forefront of his narratives. Pepi Luci Bom has a HILARIOUS ‘General Erections’ scene when Pepi, Luci and Bom are at a party and Almodóvar himself is running the show. The General Erections involves several gentleman dropping trou and having their erections measured. Though of course we don’t see anything of note. The winner gets to choose one person to perform a sex act on him. Bom is a gay woman, and Luci gets her kicks by being slapped and punished, and Pepi is raped when she was actually planning on selling her virginity.
Free sexuality, and other sex related narratives including sex abuse and AIDS are rife in basically every Almodóvar film. Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990) is about a psychiatric patient who captures an actress believing it is fate to marry her and have children with her. Live Flesh (1997) begins with a prostitute giving birth. All About My Mother (1999) has men in drag and AIDs troubles. Talk to Her (2002) has a dancer in a vegetative state who is raped and impregnated by one of Almodóvar’s most intriguing characters Benigno, a hospital staff member.
This rape is also visualised fantastically with a miniature man climbing back into the womb of a regular sized woman. Yup. Erection competitions and going back into the womb… When Almodóvar makes a film, he’s not afraid to depict anything. Post-Franco Spain was a time for experimenting. And experiment Almodóvar did.
I would also go into an Almodóvar sexuality by-theme, if you will. Gender and sexuality as performance. We’re talking drag, on stage and loads of variations on the meaning of performance. However, t I shall skim over this because I personally can’t find any reference of it in Pepi Luci Bom. Apart from, you know, the General Erections.
Moving away from themes (boy, does Almodóvar have a LOT of recurring ones!) I’m now going to make one point about visuals, and a final signature genre style. You might say that Almodóvar’s films all look a but ‘gaudy’. However, I prefer to say saturated so that the colours pop and look a bit camp. But what’s wrong with a bit of campness in movies?! Though Pepi Luci Bom obviously has lower production values than all of his later films, the vibrancy of colours and light is obvious from the get go. It’s quite evident in I’m So Excited (2013) which is a really polished looking film. If you’ve ever seen the inside of an airplane and it’s likely you have, you know they don’t look as colourful and vivid as the Airbus A340 in this film.
And finally, Melodrama. No matter what the film, you can guarantee to find a smidgen of a melodramatic edge. The films are full of emotion. They’re slightly sensational, perhaps lack subtlety… All these are classic Almodóvar. In Pepi Luci Bom, my mind is immediately drawn to when Pepi tells Luci that her husband raped her and brought Luci to her flat to exact revenge.
It’s said very matter of fact and therefore the audience quite taken aback. Luci doesn’t react in the way you would expect her to. In fact she barely reacts at all. It’s unrealistic. It might be under-emotional on the surface but to not make a fuss of such a horrific act it brings rape into the everyday and as such brings more focus. I call upon All About My Mother yet again when Agrado, a funny transexual woman takes to the stage to recount her life story to an audience who were expecting to watch A Streetcar Named Desire. She gets about two sentences in and the crowd goes wild. Erm…
So there you have it. A mammoth blog post on one of my favourite directors of all time. In a way, it’s nice to see long running themes that Almodóvar has kept since Pepi Luci Bom, but at the same time it’s also nice to see him add more mature themes to his repertoire as his career has progressed. Ultimately, aside from generally just making consistent high-quality and thoroughly entertaining films, I adore that Almodóvar is a filmmaker that seems to not think twice about making women the lead in his films. Whereas you might not think twice about a director consistently using men in leading roles, Almodóvar has managed to do the same for women because, duh, it’s not that hard. Almodóvar has done it 20 times over and he’s not hit a brick wall yet.
Are you a fan of Pedro Almodovar? If you aren’t, have I convinced you to check out some of his work?
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