Labyrinth of Passions: Women in Almodóvar

Where do I begin with Almódovar? I admire his work a great deal. There is so much to write. I’ll start simply.

There is no doubt that women occupy a privileged position in the heart, mind, and funny-bone of Almódovar. He has said repeatedly in interviews how much he enjoys writing for women, and about their many facets. I do like the way his women turn up in his films. There, women have a tremendous capacity for love and forgiveness, and a large set of survival skills, honed to such razor-sharp precision by their histories of fending for themselves. They have their tough softness. They also have a talent for camp and for drama, necessary for survival in Almodóvar’s world.

On the other hand, he also sees and shows their weaknesses – how they give in to men, how they gamble in love and often lose. Even when they give in to those men who become women, whether wholly or partially, physically or sartorially. In many ways, the women in his film transcend their age, class, position in society, and…dare I say it?…become very human, as essential as one can make them (though it has been argued elsewhere that the director is very political).

What I love about these women is that they are funny, macabre, and sexy all at once. There is no other filmmaker who quite captures all those things at once – with the exception perhaps of Woody Allen in his early films. Howard Hawks’ and George Cukor’s women are sharp, intelligent, and witty, but they are very much already in control. Manuela, Raimunda, and Leo, on the other hand, are only about to try to take control, and we don’t know quite whether they’ll make it. The anticipation of their equally spectacular successes and failures keep me watching. They are like many women I know, tough and fragile all at once, sometimes ridiculous and all warm-hearted.

Manuela searches for her dead son’s father in Todo Sobre mi Madre.
Raimunda’s got a dead mother and husband in Volver.
A dead son and a wayward husband for Leo in La Flor de Mi Secreto.