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Excess and acceptance

28 April 2017

Stephen Brown revisits Almodóvar’s early films

Filmmaker in his youth: Pedro Almodóvar

Filmmaker in his youth: Pedro Almodóvar

PEDRO ALMODÓVAR, Spain’s celebrated contemporary filmmaker, covers subjects such as child abuse within the Church (Bad Education, 2004) and science’s dangerous tendencies to play God (The Skin I Live In, 2011). Time and again, he produces deeply insightful treatments of gender issues, guilt, faith, and mystery, often within a predominantly Roman Catholic heritage.

A recent DVD/Blu-ray box-set of early Almodóvar films, The Almodóvar Collection (StudioCanal), includes his 1983 film Dark Habits(Cert. 15). It features bizarre, marginalised characters in worlds, including the Church, which bubble over with excess. The drug-blighted nightclub singer Yolanda (Cristina Sánchez Pascual) commits herself to the House of the Redeemer. All human life is there. Its nuns include a drug addict,a writer of lurid pulp fiction, and a masochist. Each specialises in studying a particular sin.

These foibles are plunged into doubt when a new Mother Superior (none too stable a personality herself) arrives to take charge. Almodóvar’s approach, unlike that of his fellow-countryman Luis Buñuel, isn’t anti-clerical or atheistic. People are people, however fragile their faith may be.

Other titles in the collection — Law of Desire (Cert. 18), Kika (Cert. 18), The Flower of My Secret (Cert. 15), What Have I Done to Deserve This? (Cert. 18), and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Cert. 18) — may not have the overtly religious themes of Dark Habits. Nevertheless, by throwing light in humanity’s dustier corners, the director reveals characters capable of forgiveness and amendment of life. The affectionate laughter they evoke in us feels like an echo of the divine. As one of Almodóvar’s characters says, “We’re all in God’s hands.”

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