Discovering Madrid through the movies of Pedro Almodóvar

Daniela Michanie
Daniela Michanie - [email protected]
Discovering Madrid through the movies of Pedro Almodóvar
A scene from High Heels filmed at Villa Rosa in Plaza de Santa Ana with Miguel Bosé as drag queen Letal.

Pedro Almodóvar taught Daniela Michanie everything she needed to know about (and made her fall in love with) the city of Madrid.


Madrid is not only Almodóvar’s muse and main character in his films, but is a mirror to his own evolution as an artist and his love for this nuanced city. The love story he shares with the Spanish capital is complex, with a cinematography that depicts the good, the bad, the ugly, and the plain absurd.

In the few short months since I've been studying his films, they've served as the lens through which I’ve fallen in love with each of Madrid’s faces.

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The opening scenes of Live Flesh, showed me a Madrid of repression—it’s December of 1970 and Franco’s fascist regime has declared a state of emergency in Spain.

The streets of Madrid, the ones that Almodóvar famously depicts as colorful and vibrant and full of life are empty. When I walk down the Circulo de Bellas Artes to retrace Penelope Cruz’s steps, I see a Madrid full of life and audacious colors and unflinching brashness.

I imagine the fear that must have been felt during Franco’s dictatorship, and understand why the Spanish people are so hesitant to speak about the fascist past that is so present in their collective consciousness.

Photo: Daniela Michanie

In the last scene of What Have I Done to Deserve This?, the camera slowly zooms out of enormous buildings in the neighborhood of La Concepcion, where the impoverished protagonist of the movie can hardly afford to live.

When I venture out of the center of Madrid to see the neighborhood for myself, I am reminded that the graffiti and dirt-filled streets of the lower-income neighborhoods are as much at the heart of Madrid as the neoclassical façade of the Prado or the bright lights of Gran Via.  

La Concepcion Barrio de Madrid. Photo: jepeto / Flickr 

Pepa’s desperate and fruitless search for the lover who has abandoned her in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown takes me through Madrid’s most beautiful streets and up to the terrace of the Principal Hotel, where I sip coffee and see what Almodóvar sees—a city with unparalleled beauty.

Photo: Daniela Michanie

I’ve walked up and down the El Rastro market featured in the sexually tense opening scene of Labyrinth of Passions. I talk to the vendor who pulls a fake leather jacket on me and tells me how guapa I look.

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She insists that I’ll regret paying double for the same jacket at the Zara on Gran Via, and then proceeds to tell me her life story. She’s run the same stand every Sunday since she was a child helping her parents make the rent.

Photo: Daniela Michanie

I’ve visited the restaurant where Penelope Cruz sings in Volver, a movie that explores Spain’s “macho culture,” and confronts the issue of domestic violence—one that resulted in the death of 48 Spanish women in the last year—head on.

The superstitious and resilient women of the film resonate with women everywhere, and help me piece together the female experience before and after Franco's dictatorship.

Photo: Daniela Michanie

Whether you are in town for a few days or are lucky enough to get acquainted with the city for an extended period of time, Almodóvar's films are a good place to start to see the real Madrid: unfiltered and unhinged. 

Writer and lifelong resident of Madrid Sacha Azcona puts Almodóvar's Madrid at your fingertips with his recently released book, "El Madrid de Almodóvar".

Azcona openly professes his love for the city of Madrid, saying that it is this love that led him to publish a guide to Almodóvar's film sites.

"The process to write the book was completely spontaneous: I was watching Bad Education, one of Almodóvar's movies, and a very pop and sort of antique yellow theater appeared in the film and I asked myself, where could that be?" said Azcona. 

Azcona wasn't the only Madrileño asking himself where some of Almodóvar's most iconic scenes were filmed.

"I looked on internet and found that there were a ton of people trying to find Almodóvar's locations. I began searching during a holy week 11 years ago as a hobby and it turned into a book."

Azcona's book takes readers through five of the city's most important neighborhoods, pointing out places where famous scenes were filmed and recommending places to grab a tapa or a caña while you're there. 

If you want to explore the city that has served as Almodóvar’s muse for decades, be warned: you may never want to leave. 

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