Almodóvar: Man of La Mancha

The Age  Melbourne, 1994, 2,100 words; adapted extracts  

When I interviewed Pedro Almodóvar what most impressed me was his encyclopaedic knowledge and his openness about trickier aspects of work and life. Curiously, many themes that we touched upon emerged in his later films. 

Pedro Almodóvar's just given up smoking. Every so often, he pulls his hair nervously between his fingers until it sticks up in electric shock. He is talking about a trip to New York to promote his film, Kika.

"The journalists asked if it would be politically correct to laugh at the rape scene. I want to say, laugh, cry, walk out of the cinema, smoke, drink, fart, whatever your body and reason tell you to do. But to start asking yourself whether you should do those things? That's mental dictatorship."

The national film school had just been closed down, but, undeterred, he bought a Super-8 camera and began filming everyday tales of the absurd.

Almodóvar has come a long way since he arrived in Madrid in 1968, aged 16, from the plains of La Mancha. The national film school had just been closed down, but, undeterred, he bought a Super-8 camera and began filming everyday tales of the absurd against the backdrop of Madrid bursting out of Franco's moral strait-jacket.

"It felt like a miracle," he says. "When you're self-taught, every step's a baptism by fire. Everything you do has been done before, but you feel as if you're inventing it. You still fall into conventions, but in a more personal way."

DODGING THE LIMELIGHT

Almodóvar's success abroad has made him to the new Spain what Warhol or Lennon were to their own adopted cities at their fashionable peak: national property, loved or hated, and - unusually for a director - recognised wherever he goes. In a country where gossip is a national pastime, he has managed to keep his private life sealed off from the press. But only at a price. He's rarely seen out these days. 

"It's reached such a point that I stay at home when I want to go out. That's not what I need. What I need is to observe the simple things of everyday life that fascinate me, but fame means they reach me distorted. The worst thing is that people stop telling you the truth."

Nor is he always kindly treated by the Spanish critics and film industry. His acclaim as one of the great auteur directors of our time was led by audiences and critics outside Spain well before he earned the same recognition on home ground.

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