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Positively Anti-Realist: Art, Artifice, and the Power of Fiction in the Films of Pedro Almodóvar

Cooper, Anneliese

Since his career began in 1978, writer/director Pedro Almodóvar has become one of modern cinema’s most prodigious and recognizable auteurs. Though his oeuvre spans decades, with eighteen full-length films and many awards and accolades (including two Oscars) to his name, all of his films seem to bear certain signature stylistic traits: bright colors, strong female characters, melodramatic tone and plot twists, celebration of queer sexuality--even a cadre of recurring performers (including current household names Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz, both of whom owe their success in large part to roles in Almodóvar’s early films). However, beyond these somewhat superficial similarities, there seems to be a deeper uniting thematic trend that spans his body of work: regardless of the specific circumstances of his films’ plotlines, Almodóvar proves himself time and time again to be a creator obsessed with the process of artistic creation. His films repeatedly focus attention on the borderline between reality and artifice, fact and fiction--and show it to be permeable and difficult to maintain. Indeed, many of his films--such as Law of Desire (1987), Bad Education (2004), and Broken Embraces (2009)--explicitly chronicle the travails of filmmaker protagonists and thereby engage directly in the practice of metafilm, implicitly (sometimes, even explicitly) laying bare the inner workings of their own cinematic construction. This somewhat jarring process necessarily forces the viewer to recognize the suspension of disbelief required to engage with film--to reconcile the undeniably artificial nature of what one is seeing with the extent to which it is still affecting. Moreover, even in films of his that don’t explicitly explore the process of filmmaking--for example, All About My Mother (1999), Talk to Her (2002), and his most recent output, The Skin I Live In (2011)--Almodóvar still seems intent on investigating the influence of art, whether by including explicit references to (or even clips from) other films, or by foregrounding other artistic practices, such as theater, dance, and sculpture. In each case, Almodóvar showcases the ways in which artifice can have a direct and powerful influence on the “reality” of each film’s diegesis; performance, deception, and the production of art are all central to the stories he seeks to tell. One might even term Almodóvar’s films “positively anti-realist,” as theorist Paul Burston does in his essay “Genre Bender,” in that his films constitute “a world which regularly draws attention to its own construction” (143). Indeed, by commenting so frequently on the ways in which art affects life, Almodóvar seems intent on breaking down the presumed hierarchy that privileges reality over artifice, even on destabilizing the very notion of “reality” altogether. Ultimately, Almodóvar’s films represent a collective ode to the power of fiction--a recognition that, in many cases, art can be more “real” than reality, or at the very least equally as relevant.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Film
Series
Andrew Sarris Memorial Award for Film Criticism
Published Here
January 16, 2014

Notes

This senior essay is the recipient of the 2013 Andrew Sarris Memorial Award for Film Criticism, awarded by the Film Program of the School of the Arts, Columbia University.

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