Towards the end of my sophomore year in college I took a class exclusively dedicated to the works of Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar. Twice a week we met over the course of the quarter: once to watch one of his films, and again to discuss it in the context of the assigned reading. Some of the texts were easier to digest than others; some were in English, some in Spanish; and some, despite repeated readings for other classes, I still never quite understood (Laura Mulvey's "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema," anyone?). But to this day, The Cinema of Pedro Almodóvar remains one of my favorite classes ever, and was a decisive factor when it came time to select a major. (Famously, I made a pros and con chart to choose between English, Film Studies, Anthropology and Environmental Science; in the end I went with anthro but minored in film).
I don't know if it's exactly fair to call Almodóvar my favorite director, but thanks to that course I have seen almost all of his films and quite like most of them. (There are other filmmakers that I greatly admire, but I don't feel that I've seen enough of their work to know whether the appreciation of their style exceeds the few examples that I am familiar with). Almodóvar's specialty is in creating stories that are endearingly kitschy and visually vibrant with characters that are real, though often not entirely realistic. Watching his films, which he writes himself, it often feels as though they take place in a parallel universe. Sexuality (and, inevitably, sex) is one of his most prevalent themes, and the director definitely has some, er, unique takes on it (see: Matador and La piel que habito).
Thus far in his career Almodóvar has only worked in his home country, with a penchant for setting his films in the capital, incorporating well-known landmarks and places that played a role in his youth. Put simply, Almodóvar is to Madrid as Woody Allen is to New York. So between siestas, tapas, and hitting up all the requisite sites and monuments, I decided to track down some of the filming locations.
- Telefónico building. Gran Vía, 28. Visible from the rooftop of Pepa's (Carmen Maura) building in Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown). A nod to the director's past employment when he first came to Madrid.
- Plaza Mayor. Where Ángel (Juan Echanove) dances one evening in La flor de mi secreto (Flower of My Secret).
- UGT office, formerly the Convent of Santa Maria Magdalena. Calle Hortaleza, 88. The convent where Entre Tinieblas (Dark Habits) takes place.
- Círculo de Bellas Artes. Calle Alcalá, 42. Where Andrea (Victoria Abril) and Nicholas (Peter Coyote) can be spotted in Kika.
- Cine Doré. Calle de Santa Isabel, 3. Benigno (Javier Cámara) watches a film here, in Hable con ella (Talk to Her), on one of his free evenings, which influences him to do something very crucial in the story...
- Calle Conde Duque. Tina (Maura) gets hosed down on this street in a memorable scene from La ley del deseo (Law of Desire).
- Cementario de la Almudena. Liberto (Victor Plaza) visits this cemetery in Carne trémula (Live Flesh). Of course the more iconic resting place shot by Almodóvar would be the Cementario Montjuic that appears in Todo sobre mi madre (All About My Mother), but that's in Barcelona and, naturally, I didn't think of it while I was there. Oops!
And in case you have thus far been deprived of his excellent films, I would recommend starting with Todo sobre mi madre, Volver, Hable con ella, Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios, and Abrazos rotos.