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VIVA PEDRO: An Almodóvar Sampler

Tuesday, December 26----Following the international success of Pedro Almodovar’s acclaimed femme fest VOLVER, arthouse distributor Sony Pictures Classics is presenting a national tour of eight Almodovar classics in spanking new 35mm prints. New Yorkers can sample the series when it unspools at the Walter Reade Theater starting tomorrow through January 3. VIVA PEDRO, presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, is a wonderful way to see out the old year, or ring in the new one. And with a Series Pass for just $20 for one screening of each of the 8 films in this mini-retrospective, it is also one of New York’s great film deals. So whether you are a die-hard fan or a curious beginner, this is your opportunity to see some of this master filmmaker’s most influential works covering two decades of exceptional artistry. Talk about a New Year’s treat……

The series begins with MATADOR (1986), starring a very young Antonio Banderas as a bullfighter forced by a goring to retire early from his career. His intense nostalgia for the bullring can only be quenced by killing his lovers right after they climax. A beautiful lawyer played by Assumpta Serna has a similar dark desire…gorging her own lovers at their climax by thrusting her hairpin into their necks. MATADOR revels in the taboos of eroticism, violence and perverse necrophiliac passion, making it one of Almodovar’s most controversial films.

LAW OF DESIRE (1987) is set against the backdrop of the mad, mad world of Madrid, which is still waking up after decades of repression under the Franco regime. Using a cast of quirky characters which includes a transsexual, a father/son detective team and the mother from hell, Almodovar crafts a spicy tale of desire and desperation, which clearly influenced later films such as BAD EDUCATION. The film premiered at the 1988 New Directors/New Films festival, quickly establishing Almodovar as Spain’s cinema bad boy.

The film that really put the director on the map was 1988’s WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN, which, not inconsequentially also opened that year’s New York Film Festival. One of Almodovar’s first films to find wide commercial distribution in the US, this is a femme fest featuring some of Spain’s most divine actresses, led by the wonderful Carmen Maura, in a dazzling set piece of high-strung women clutching at passion, warmth and contact at a dizzying pace in go-go Madrid. The film is still one of the master’s most beloved and a thrilling post-punk celebration of the absurdities of modern life.

THE FLOWER OF MY SECRET (1995) is a minor masterpiece in a different key….a marvelous story of lost love and solitude told with the director’s all-embracing compassion. Starring such Almodovar favorites as Marisa Paredes and Rossy de Palma, the film is a witty and lush meditation on life’s unexpected twists and turns.

LIVE FLESH (1997) is one of the director’s first experiments with mixing genres, in particular a police thriller with a sex farce. The film follows the tangled interrelationships of two cops (Javier Bardem and José Sancho), a philandering wife (Ángela Molina), a diplomat's daughter (Francesca Neri) and his wide-eyed protagonist, ardently played by Liberto Rabal. The film has been described as a homage to the great Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel, with the set pieces of that master director’s attractions to the issues of death, destiny and guilt.

Almodovar won his first Best Director prize at the Cannes Film Festival for the landmark ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER (1999), a film that is arguably the director’s most successful blending of comedy, satire and pathos. An exquisite Cecilia Roth stars as a woman who loses her son and begins a quest to find his wayward father. She travels to Barcelona, where she encounters several varieties of women who have also experienced life’s slings and arrows, including a theatrical diva (the divine Marisa Paredes) and a trusting young woman (the role that launched the career of VOLVER’s Penélope Cruz). The film, which opened the New York Film Festival that year, also won the coveted Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, and cemented Almodovar as one of the world’s most important and influential film poets.

TALK TO HER (2002) again mixes melodrama and black comedy in a deeply moving and utterly unique story of two men. Benigno is a male nurse devoted to the care of a beautiful coma victim. Marco is a writer who becomes entangled in a relationship with a striking female bullfighter. These parallel stories circle one another and finally entwine in one of the director’s most emotionally satisfying and sophisticated meditations on the need for human love and contact. Almodóvar won an Oscar for his original screenplay for this exquisite and wise film.

Almodóvar confronted the demons of his troubled Catholic boyhood in the controversial BAD EDUCATION (2004), one of the director’s most challenging, provocative and beautifully made films. A ravishing, labyrinthine narrative centers on the reunion of two school friends, one a film director, the other an aspiring screenwriter (rising star Gael Garcia Bernal) , who become intertwined in memories of Catholic education, multiple identities, sexual dualities and, above all, a passion for film. Gorgeously photographed by José Luis Alcaine, this complex and passionate film is Almodóvar at the peak of his powers.

For more information, film screening schedules and information on the VIVA PEDRO Series Pass, log on to the official website of the Film Society of Lincoln Center: Film Society of Lincoln Center or visit the box office at the Walter Reade Theater.

Sandy Mandelberger
Film New York Editor

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The Ultimate Guide to the New York Film, Video and New Media Scene.

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