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Almodóvar: Man of La Mancha
The Age Melbourne, 1994, 2,100 words; adapted extracts
"If you think of Spanish cinema as a family doing a particular kind of work," says Almodóvar, "we're the black sheep who nobody looks at, nobody mixes with. Many people here think I'm a better publicist than film-maker. We're absolutely independent in every respect and we pay for it."
Almodóvar / ‘Many people here think I’m a better publicist than film-maker. We’re absolutely independent in every respect and we pay for it.’
His independence is a highly personal affair. His stable of actors -among them Antonio Banderas, Victoria Abril, Rossi de Palma, Bibi Andersen - includes many devoted friends, his mum used to play bit-parts in his films, El Deseo, or Desire, the independent production company he set up in 1986, is run by his younger brother Tintin. It all ticks over like an extended family. Hospitality, such as the famous night when Madonna was taken on the town and tried to seduce Banderas, is a point of honour in a very Spanish way.
BEHIND THE CAMERA
Pedro's directorial style is also his own, with hands-on control from start to finish. A ruthless perfectionist with his actors, he rehearses them daily for three months before shooting begins, and he films in narrative order - a luxury few directors can afford - so he can change route at any moment. The bed scene in Atame (Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down), for example, needed twenty-eight takes.
"People thought Philadelphia was a brave thing for me to do," comments Antonio Banderas. "But it was nothing compared to scenes I'd done for Pedro in the past. He won't allow you to lie to the camera."
"When he works with women, Pedro is at his comedic best," says actor and activist Peter Coyote. "He wants to be them. He offers them every vagarie and nuance of performance. They stand side by side and speak simultaneously until the actress has absorbed the mannerisms and inflections of her mentor."
For all Pedro's waywardness, it's hard to work out quite why he gets so much flack on home ground. After all, he’s arguably Spain's most high-profile cultural export and his nose for talent has sniffed out many of Spain's best-known screen faces: Antonio Banderas, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Carmen Maura, Javier Camara, Rossi de Palma, Victoria Abril.
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