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'Cinema taught me more than my priest did'

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'Cinema taught me more than my priest did'
Pedro Almodóvar's latest film satirizes the economic crisis in Spain. Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images North America/AFP
16:17 CEST+02:00
He once worked at Madrid's world-famous Rastro flea market, loves toy cars and launched the career of Hollywood star Antonio Banderas. Meet The Local's latest Spanish Face of the Week, film maker Pedro Almodóvar.

So who is Pedro Almodóvar?

Almodóvar is almost certainly Spain's most famous film director of all time. In a career spanning nearly 40 years, he has directed 20 feature films.

His international breakthrough came with the high farce of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, and his 2002 film Talk to Her earned him an academy award nod for Best Director.

How did he become involved in cinema?

At the age of eight, the film maker was shipped off by his family to a boarding school in Cáceres in Extremadura, where he soon discovered the local cinema.

"Cinema became my real education, much more than the one I received from the priest," Almodóvar later said.

In the late 1960s, the director moved to Madrid and taught himself film making, funding this project with jobs including a stint at Madrid's famous Rastro flea market and at telecommunications operator Telefónica.

In the wake of Spain's long-serving right-wing dictator in 1975, Almodóvar became an integral part of Madrid's Movida movement, a countercultural phenomenon that went a long way towards forging Spain's new socially liberal identity. 

His early short films — shown in Madrid's nightclubs — contained no soundtrack, so he did all the voices for the actors himselves.

His debut film, 1980's Pepi, Luci, Bom and Other Girls Like Mom was a raunchy underground comedy which lent witness to this new, freer, Spain.

Almodóvar has worked with many of Spain's top actors and is credited with launching the film career of Antonio Banderas.

Penélope Cruz, meanwhile, says the Spanish director is the reason she started acting.

"When I was growing up, there was such a fear of change in Spain and he seemed to be the opposite," she told the UK's Guardian newspaper in 2009.

"Even when I was a little girl, I identified with him,"

“It’s very Latin to work and live with a clan,”  Almodóvar told the New York Times in a separate interview.

“Penélope is a great friend, but she also gives me wonderful results. When I have a good experience with someone, I tend to use them again.”

And why is he The Local's Spanish Face of the week?

There a couple of reasons. Firstly, there are the comments Almodóvar made about the Spanish monarchy this week.

"I feel sympathy for the King," said the director.

"He has always been very nice with me so I don't want to cause him any problems.

"But I think we should have the possibility of a referendum to ask the Spanish people what they think about the system and ask if they want a constitutional monarchy or not."

Almodóvar also said his perceptions of Spain's Royal Family had changed in recent years, especially in the wake of the publication of Pilar Urbano's book by Queen Sofia, La Reina Muy de Cerca (The Queen Up Close).

"That book shocked me," the openly gay director said on Tuesday.

"For me it was awful to find all these homophobic statements about gay marriage," he explained.

And what is the second reason for Almodóvar being Spanish Face of the Week?

The 63-year-old director has just seen the release of his latest movie I'm So Excited (Los amantes pasajeros) in the United States.

The comedy which satirizes Spain's current economic and political situation saw its US premiere during this year's Los Angeles Film Festival.

Set on a flight bound for Mexico City, I'm So Excited — "Excited also means horny in Spanish," Almodóvar told festival audience in the US city — contains the director's usual heady mix of soap opera and sex.

After a string of more serious feature films, Almodóvar says he wanted a change.

"During the '80s, I made a lot of comedies, so this was like returning to my roots," the Chicago Tribune quoted Almodóvar as saying . "I think I just needed to make something lighter."

But the film also has its serious side.

US film site The Playlist said the movie was "a metaphor for the ills of society today and how we handle them".

As the film goes on, the viewer learns that the pilots are flying in circles, looking for an airport to execute an emergency landing. In business class, it's all intrigue and gossip, while the economy passengers are all passed out cold.

The film reflects the "political corruption and financial embezzlement", Almodóvar said recently.

"We are living in Spain, I don't know about here, but I think everywhere, is in a catastrophic period. But this movie allowed me to turn this catastrophe into a party.

A party to which you are invited," Almodóvar told audience members at the Los Angeles film festival.

Editor's Note:The Local's Spanish Face of the Week is someone in the news who - for good or ill - has revealed something interesting about the country. Being selected as Spanish Face of the Week is not necessarily an endorsement.

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