ARTS 643
The Cinema of Pedro Almodovar

Isolina Ballesteros           

Course Description

Pedro Almodóvar is the enfant terrible of Spanish cinema and one of the most original and daring European film-makers working today. Almodóvar's cinema mixes the traditional and the transgressive, depicting gender and sexuality as fluid, and featuring as protagonists those characters [women, homosexuals, transvestis, transsexuals, drug users] usually placed at the margins of society and sexuality. Using irony and parody, he recontextualizes cinematographic genres as well as popular culture. His films express a hybrid and eclectic visual style, and break down orthodox frontiers between mass and high culture, in a way that embodies the spirit of postmodern Spain. 

Since his directorial debut in 1980, Almodóvar has made 16 films, including his American breakthrough films:  Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown; Tie Me up! Tie Me down!; and the Academy Award winning films All about My Mother and Talk to Her. A self-taught film-maker, he declares to have learned his craft by watching the films of Luis Buñuel, Italian neorrealists such as De Sica and Visconti, Jean Luis Godard, and Douglas Sirk, among others. Almodóvar can lay claim to auteur status because, besides directing, he controls the production and distribution of his work. He runs, with his brother Agustín, the production company, El Deseo. He began his cinematic career in a Spain that had recently been liberated from decades of dictatorship. As a chronicler of the free Spain, he captured with his films the excitement of the transition to democracy and reconstructed Spanish national identity. 

This course studies Pedro Almodóvar's development from his directorial debut to the present, from the precarious conditions of production of the early films to the award-winning mastery of the later ones. It explores the cultural context and the content and social structures of the films, and pays special attention to Almodóvar's technical and visual artistry.

We will study most of his films and will read cultural, theoretical and critical texts. All films will have English subtitles and all texts will be read in English. Assigned film viewing and text reading will be conducted individually and prior to the beginning of the course. Digitized versions of the films are included in the course’s Media File that can be accessed through this link: http://condor.wesleyan.edu/media/iballesteros/video/.  Students may also watch the films using the facilities of the Weleyan Library (Olin), those of the Language Resource Center (Fisk Hall), or renting from local video stores. Class sessions will be entirely devoted to discussing texts and analyzing film segments. Students will be responsible for class participation (25%), two short written reports (3-4 pages) due prior to the beginning of the course (25%), an oral presentation with formal analysis of a film (20%), and a final paper (8-10 pages) (30%).

Texts

Paul Julian Smith, Desire Unlimited. The Cinema of Pedro Almodóvar. Second Edition. London & New York, 2000. (Broad Bookstore, Middletown)

Mark Allinson, A Spanish Labyrinth. The Films of Pedro Almodóvar. London & New York, I.B. Tauris Publishers, 2001. (Broad Bookstore, Middletown)

Course Packet (CP) with selected readings (Available at PIP Printing, Middletown)

Films

Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón (1980) [Pepi, Luci, Bom and Other girls on the Heap]

Laberinto de pasiones (1982) [Labyrinth of passion]

Entre tinieblas (1983) [Dark Habits]

¿Qué he hecho yo para merecer esto! (1984) [What Have I Done to Deserve This!]

Matador (1986)

La ley del deseo (1987) [The Law of Desire]

Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (1988) [Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown]

¡Átame! (1990) [Tie me Up! Tie Me Down!]

Tacones Lejanos (1991) [High Heels]

La flor de mi secreto (1995) [The Flower of my Secret]

Todo sobre mi madre (1999) [All about my Mother]

Hable con ella (2002) [Talk to Her]

La mala educación (2004) [Bad Education]

June 12 1st written report due (3-4 pp. to be sent by e-mail attachment to iballesteros@wesleyan.edu): Define some of the essential aesthetic features of the cinema of Pedro Almodovar
  • Write you report after watching most (if not all) of the films included in the course.
  • Support your arguments following the book by Mark Allinson: A Spanish Labyrinth: The Films of Pedro Almodovar.
June 19 Chronicles of the free Spain

The Movida of the 1980s; Madrid: cinematic and socio-cultural space; religious and folkloric iconografies

Films:
Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón
(1980) [Pepi, Luci, Bom and Other girls on the Heap]
Laberinto de pasiones
(1982) [Labyrinth of passion]
Entre tinieblas
(1983) [Dark Habits]
Matador
(1986)
La ley del deseo
(1987) [The Law of Desire]
La mala educación
(2004) [Bad Education]

2nd written report due (3-4 pp. to be handed in class)
The "movida" and the city of Madrid in Almodovar's early films
Define the Spanish cultural movement named the "movida" and comment on how it is represented in the following films:
Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón (1980) [Pepi, Luci, Bom and Other girls on the Heap]
Laberinto de pasiones
(1982) [Labyrinth of passion]
Entre tinieblas
(1983) [Dark Habits]
Matador
(1986)
La ley del deseo
(1987) [The Law of Desire]

June 20 Gender and Sexuality

Almodovarian Feminism and the Deconstruction of Patriarchy
Motherhood and Female Bonding

Films:
¿Qué he hecho yo para merecer esto!
(1984) [What Have I Done to Deserve This!]
Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios
(1988) [Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown]
¡Átame!
(1990) [Tie me Up! Tie Me Down!]
Tacones Lejanos
(1991) [High Heels]
La flor de mi secreto
(1995) [The Flower of my Secret]
Todo sobre mi madre
(1999) [All about my Mother]

June 21 The Normalization of Homosexuality

Queer/Ambiguous/ Transsexual identities

Films:
Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón
(1980) [Pepi, Luci, Bom and Other girls on the Heap]
Laberinto de pasiones
(1982) [Labyrinth of passion]
Entre tinieblas
(1983) [Dark Habits]
La ley del deseo
(1987) [The Law of Desire]
Todo sobre mi madre
(1999) [All about my Mother]
La mala educación
(2004) [Bad Education]

June 22 Music and Performance

Sentimental Hispanic Music and Melodrama
Camp and Drag Performance
Performative Identitites: Gender as performance

June 23 Cinematographic Genres, Literary Intertexts, Visual Composition and Mise-en-scene

Melodrama, Comedy, Film Noir: Hollywood and the Spanish (Neo)Realism
Media/TV/Publicity
Intertextual references to Literature
Framing
Mirrors
Color and Costumes: Fashion Design
Objects

June 30 Final paper due
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