Pedro Almodóvar has a daunting 34 directorial credits on IMDb across four decades of work. Trim out the shorts and oddities, and you’re still left with an astonishing 20 feature films from 1980 through to this year’s Julieta, all of which have contributed to his claim to be Spain’s most celebrated filmmaker bar none. Anything claiming to be ‘The Almodóvar Collection’ has an awful lot to live up to then.
Wisely, this set makes no claim to offer his best works — or even a representative sample, should such a thing be possible. Instead, it focuses squarely on the first half of his career, collecting six of the nine films he released between 1983 and 1995, offering a chance to discover some of his early gems and get a sense of his developing style.
Best known of the lot is 1988’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, which stars his frequent muse Carmen Maura as an actress trying to contact the lover who’s just left her. Before long it devolves into a farcical mess of romantic rivals, spiked gazpacho, and international terrorism. Probably the most lighthearted film here, it was also his breakout international success, earning him his first Oscar nod.
Maura appears again in three other films here: Dark Habits, which makes good on its title by delivering drugged up nuns; What Have I Done to Deserve This?, in which she plays an embittered housewife; and Law of Desire, which boldly cast her as the main character’s transgender sister. By turns effervescent and exasperated, she’s usually a highlight whenever she appears, a clear standout among other Almodóvar regulars including Antonio Banderas, Rossy de Palma, and Verónica Forqué.
At times it’s hard to see what binds together these six films, and by extension the director’s larger filmography. There’s the emphasis on the stories of LGBT people, at a time when they were even less often represented than they are now. There’s the clear admiration for women that runs throughout every film — even Kika, which boasts a 10-minute rape scene played for comedy, somehow manages to emphasise female agency in the process. It still seems calamitously misjudged, but you can see what he was going for at least.
But more than either of those, it’s the stunning sense of verve and imagination that sits at the heart of every film in this collection. This is the work of a director who seems to know no limits, who finds the humanity in the absurd and the absurd in humanity. No-one else makes films quite like this, and it’s hard to imagine how they could.
Words by Dominic Preston