Film director Pedro Almodóvar was symbol of Spain’s newfound freedom in the post-Franco democracy and has since developed into the dominant figure of contemporary Spanish cinema. Paul Smith (2000: 5) describes him as “the one true auteur to emerge in the 1980’s”, while many commentators see him as a “consummate and undisputed auteur” (Jordan and Allinson, 2005: 77). However, attempting to conclusively define Almodóvar as an “auteur” is challenging as the concept has been consistently defined and redefined since its inception. Vernon and Morris (1995: 13) state, “Models of auteurism at work today bear scant resemblance to the term’s original meaning”. Through an auteurist perspective, we must consider how both Almodóvar and his films conform to aspects of both the original ‘theory’, such as personal vision and ‘signatures’, and subsequent developments of the concept focusing on areas of collaboration and commercialisation. Our conclusions can then be used to determine whether Almodóvar’s status, as an auteur or not, helps or hinders our understanding of his films.
The original term “auteur”, pioneered in the pages of French journal Cahiers du Cinéma in 1954, instilled filmmaking as an art form, resulting from the personal vision and distinctive style of a single individual, most commonly identified as the director. The concept was both popularised and internationalised in the 1960’s by American critic Andrew Sarris with his notion of “auteur theory”, defining auteurism under a theoretical framework. Sarris (in Grant, 2008: 43) outlines ‘distinguishable personality’ as the second of three criteria used to recognise an auteur. He underlines this by saying that a director must exhibit “recurring characteristics of style, which serve as his signature” and their films should have “some relationship to the way a director thinks and feels”. Almodóvar directly adheres to this premise due to his unique personal vision, filled with visual and stylistic ‘signatures’ that are heavily influenced by his origins.
La Movida, the extreme social and cultural reformation of 1980’s Madrid, provided the context for Almodóvar’s early films and arguably shaped the director’s vision. Almodóvar used this setting of newly liberated Spain to challenge gender roles in his films, rejecting traditional conventions to focus on gay characters that no longer speak of guilt or homophobia. One aspect is his total restructuring traditional Spanish family, often void of a father figure. In La ley del deseo (1987), he presents an unorthodox family unit in which Ada’s father figure is a homosexual and her mother his transsexual brother.
Many recognisable signs of Almodóvar’s authorship reside in his treatment of mise-en-scène, his highly stylised sets and his trademark use of colour. The explosion of colour seen in his films links well with the high drama and corresponds to both his and his characters’ personalities. Through his personal vision, all his colours are meticulously coordinated and combined via props and costumes. Frequent use of red, typically associated with Spanish culture, provides a constant link to his origins. The vitality of his colours was his way of fighting the austerity of his origins in La Mancha (Strauss, 2006: 86).
Perhaps his most characteristic ‘signature’ is his mixing of genres, often combining melodrama, comedy, romance and thriller within the same film. While some interpret this as a metaphor for the new liberated Spanish identity, others...