CHICAS TO THE FRONT
A celebration of the Almodóvar girl
Written and curated by Chiara Puntil
Tilda Swinton and Pedro Almodóvar: a match made in arthouse-heaven, and one eagerly awaited by cinephiles worldwide.
By joining forces with the Spanish director, Swinton has also become the most recent addition to his file of iconic female protagonists; so, to mark her admission to this most fabulous of pantheons, we decided to celebrate the chica Almodóvar with a special mini-season, aiming to capture the unique charm of a figure so emblematic, she even has a song dedicated to her.
Hard to pin down and yet instantly recognisable to anyone familiar with the director’s filmography, the Almodóvar girl is a complex creature. By turns an utmost diva or an ingenue, a scorned lover or a femme fatale, she’s a master of histrionics with a penchant for self-deprecation: effortlessly switching from high drama to potty humour, she matches Almodóvar’s particular genre blend of melodrama with a hint of comedy. Laughing or crying, but always dressed for the part – she looks just divine in red – the chica Almodóvar is a woman of sharp heels and sharper wit. Know her, love her, but don’t you ever dare cross her: you never know just what she might hide up her sleeve or stir in her gazpacho.
THE HUMAN VOICE (2020)
For his English-language debut, Pedro Almodóvar has chosen to revisit Jean Cocteau’s The Human Voice, a play that appears in his early work.
He first adapted it for his seminal 1987 film The Law of Desire, where a distraught Tina – Carmen Maura, the first of his chicas and arguably the ultimate one – performs it on stage, directed by her similarly lovesick brother Pablo. Inspired by that specific scene and the actress’ performance, Almodóvar then went on to make his classic Women on the verge of a nervous breakdown, a self-described Carmen Maura overdose.
This new version, filmed during lockdown, seems much starker and pared back from the over-the-top fashion choices of the Eighties. In its brief runtime, it distills many of the tropes we’ve come to think of as quintessentially Almodóvar: the woman in red, waiting by the phone for a sign from her lover; the curated decor, so highly-stylised it instantly points to its artificiality; the never ending game of mise en abyme and intertextual references, an exercise the director delights in and that always keeps the audience guessing. To that extent, does this collaboration mark the beginning of a beautiful friendship? We sure hope so!
Showing on Friday 28.05 (6:30 pm), Monday 31.05 (8:45 pm) Tickets
ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER (1999)
The winner of many accolades, including the Academy Award for Best Foreign Picture in 2000, All About My Mother consolidated Almodóvar’s place on the international cinema map, cementing his reputation as one of the most important contemporary auteurs.
The film follows Manuela, a mourning mother, as she returns to Barcelona, from where she fled sixteen years prior. There, she creates a family of sorts with her longtime friend Agrado, young social worker Rosa, and Huma Rojo, an iconic actress playing Blanche in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire. The play not only reminds Manuela of her own past in an amateur theatre company, but also mirrors some of the themes of the film, drawing attention to the thin, blurred lines between lying and acting, impersonation and authenticity.
With an ensemble cast featuring Cecilia Roth, Marisa Paredes and Penélope Cruz, and Antonia San Juan as the much-loved Agrado (you’d want to watch the film for her monologue alone), All About My Mother is a celebration of kinship, femininity and motherhood, and the many forms they can take.
Showing on Friday, 04.06 (8:45pm), Monday, 07.06 (6:00pm), Wednesday, 09.06 (6:00pm) Tickets
Bringing together Carmen Maura and Penélope Cruz, and marking the first collaboration between Maura and Almodóvar since the Eighties, Volver (“to return”) is a ghost story of sorts, and tells the doleful tale of a mother-daughter relationship marred by the weight of a terrible secret.
With its virtually all-female cast of complex, broken characters, Volver is set between present-day Madrid and a rural town that appears to be suspended in a nondescript past, a place where trauma remains unspoken, but hidden truths cannot stay buried for too long.
Because of its emphasis on silence, guilt, and the faults of the elders affecting the younger generations, Volver is reminiscent of Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts, highlighting the way theatre often serves as a source of inspiration for Almodóvar. However, unlike the play, the film also leaves some space for hope and forgiveness. And, as is true of every “Almodrama”, its melodramatic tones and plot are lightened by an irreverent sense of humour, and matched by spotless aesthetics too: look out for the scene where Cruz holds a knife to her face, the blood on it perfectly matching the red hue of her cardigan – a veritable Almodóvar moment.
Showing on Friday 11.06, Monday 14.06, Wednesday 16.06.