Almodóvar's Fluid Identities

GreenCineStaff's picture

By Michael Guillén

Almodóvar's are not so much about sexual orientation as they are about purposeful sexual disorientation.

Even though Pedro Almodóvar has never really gone away, there is a recent sense that he has returned, that he is making some sort of comeback. Much of this has to do with the publicity strategy surrounding his most recent film, Volver (2006), whose penultimate theme is that of returning. Now opening in a few cities and slated for a wider release in mid-November, Volver has been anticipated by Viva Pedro!, the aegis for the Sony Classics program of eight of Almodóvar's previous films - Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988), All About My Mother (1999), Talk to Her (2002), Flower of My Secret (1995), Live Flesh (1996), Law of Desire (1987), Matador (1986) and Bad Education (2004) - all of which have helped to contextualize his most current project, Volver - both temporally (though not necessarily chronologically) and thematically. Most have weathered quite nicely and a few have even "ripened into darkness," as Matt Prigge might say.

For Almodóvar, Volver has been as much a return to form as to former concerns and, fortunately, the process has been fruitful and not one of diminishing returns. The same can be said of revisiting his films in the Viva Pedro! retrospective, which has afforded the opportunity to explore how Almodóvar has fetishized the gendered body and glamorized gender variance, all in the name of Spain.

Not only does Almodóvar question what it means to be Spanish in the period following Generalissimo Franco's repressive regime; he questions what it means to be a "man," a "woman," a "straight," a "queer," a "mother," a "father," a "victim," an "oppressor," all those identities which in their dazzlingly expressive fluidity lean toward or away from each other in various combinations throughout his work. It's challenging enough to keep up with the twists in Almodóvar's tales, let alone his malleable subjectivities. His films are not so much about sexual orientation as they are about purposeful sexual disorientation. But at all times - because of their questioning - they are about Spain's experiment with democracy and modernity.

But as consistently as Almodóvar has subverted identities, perhaps in creative and imaginative response to La Movida's rallying cry, intentionally titillating, shocking with candor, outraging with resignifications, he appears in his later years to be calming down - and again, returning to origins.

Almodóvar has stated that Volver incorporates several kinds of "coming back." He has come back, a bit more, to comedy. He has come back to the female world, to La Mancha, to working with Carmen Maura after 17 years, and to "maternity as the origin of film and fiction." Which is to say he has come back to his mother. "Coming back to La Mancha is always to come back to the maternal breast."

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