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Pedro Almodóvar’s films have been distinguished for their bright colours, cluttered kitchens, and an aesthetic so polished that it looks child-like. Yet, beneath the surface, Almodóvar’s films are about relationships, with others and with ourselves, in post-Franco Spain. They remind us that while we live in a world of plastic and deteriorating social structures, we also have more freedom to define our relationships and identities ourselves. To respond to our emotions. To be real. That’s what’s so compelling about his work – it thrives on artificiality but points to something much more authentic. Here are my Almodóvar top five picks:

5. Parallel Mothers

Almodóvar’s most recent film stands out strongly among his other work. The most toned down, the least artificial. It’s his first film to explicitly tackle the legacy of the Spanish civil war. While the main storyline is a classic switched-at-birth drama, the film’s real focus is on the heart-wrenching loss faced during the civil war. The film ends with the long-awaited excavation of the village’s loved ones who were killed in the civil war and buried in a mass grave. With the concerning rise of right-wing ideology across Europe, can we expect more politically-charged films such as this one from Almodóvar?

4. Volver

One of Penelope Cruz’s best performances. She plays a working-class mother who works multiple jobs and goes to extreme lengths to protect her daughter after she is sexually assaulted. With its all-female main cast, Almodóvar’s admiration for strong women shines through in this film. A film about healing, returning to past trauma and confronting it. Will they find peace?

3. Dark Habits

Surreal imagery, camp musical performances

In one of Almodóvar’s earliest films, two worlds meet when a cabaret singer joins a nunnery to hide from the police. However, to say that these two worlds collide would be an exaggeration; the nuns are as eccentric as any other Almodóvar character. One is a drug addict. Another owns a pet tiger. We are forced to look beyond the appearances which, at face value, seem polar opposite: saints and sinners, old and new. Dark Habits is a joy to watch with surreal imagery, camp musical performances, and ridiculous humour.

2. Bad Education


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Bad Education confronts the hypocrisy of the Catholic church and the long term effects of child abuse. The dark past of two childhood friends at a Catholic boarding school is recounted through a film… inside the film. Confused yet? In Bad Education, Almodóvar takes metafiction to the extreme, blurring the lines between what is real and what is fictional. It’s like a set of Russian dolls, except the dolls are broken, incomplete, and don’t quite fit into one another. Just as the audience is caught up in the film’s many narratives, the characters are caught up in a destructive cycle of passion and lust which appears to have no end.

1. All About My Mother

Almodóvar’s most celebrated film

It is no surprise that this is Almodóvar’s most celebrated film. Through his focus on transgender women and a touring theatre production of A Streetcar Named Desire, the film reflects on identity. What it means to play a role. It is shot beautifully, from the aerial view of Barcelona at night, to red being at the centre of nearly every frame. The colour of love, passion, Spain, and the blood transmitting AIDS, which spreads its destruction throughout the film. All About My Mother ends with the hope of new beginnings.