Volver Pedro Almodovar Analysis Essay

Pedro Almodóvar, Volver, 2006.

Norman N. Holland


Enjoying:  Almodóvar doesn’t identify his characters at first, and it helps, I think, when you first see the film, to know them from the very first shot. So I’d read the first three paragraphs of the essay below.

Items I’ve quoted from:

Almodóvar, Pedro. “Confession,” Volver Press Notes (Sony Pictures Classics, 2006). http://www.emanuellevy.com/interview/volver-almodovars-confession-9. Accessed January 21, 2013.

Lane, Anthony. “The Current Cinema: In Your Face.” The New Yorker (Nov 6, 2006): 106-107, 109.

Tobin, Yann. “Volver - Les femmes de la Mancha.” Positif - Revue mensuelle de cinéma (May 2006): 15-16.

Enjoying:  See it again and watch for details whose presence seems a little odd in the movie. Ask yourself what they are doing there. You’ll appreciate his artistry all the more. Why a freezer? Why a film crew instead of, say, a construction gang? Why Aunt Paula's grotesque glasses? Remember that Almodóvar writes his own screenplays as well as choosing what will appear onscreen. Everything is chosen. If you're curious about my answers to such questions, look at the source code for this paragraph (usually, click on View, then Source Code or Code).

Many famous directors retreat to the privacy of their own screening rooms, but Pedro Almodóvar still likes to see movies in theatres. He lives off a park on the western side of Madrid, and the art houses are clumped together near Plaza de España, not far away. He tries to go at least once a week. If a studio sends him a screener on DVD and he likes the movie, he will watch it a second time in a cinema.

One day in September, his driver dropped him off near the Cine Renoir, which was showing “Neruda,” a film about the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda directed by Pablo Larraín. As Almodóvar walked toward the theatre, carrying a Prada bag that held a bottle of water, locals recognized him. Spain is passionate about its movies, and Almodóvar, who just turned sixty-seven, is the country’s most famous director since Luis Buñuel. Stout and pale, he stands out among the Madrileños, with wide dark glasses—he suffers from light sensitivity—and a tuft of white hair that a bird appears to have woven on the top of his head.

The Cine Renoir, despite its elegant name, is a small space on the ground floor of an unappealing building—a bomb shelter that shows films. A woman in her twenties asked if she could take a photograph with Almodóvar. Many of his fans are no longer so young. A woman in her sixties praised “Julieta,” his melancholy new film, which is about a mother whose teen-age daughter abandons her. “It made me cry,” she said. “I shuddered.”

Bueno,” Almodóvar answered, smiling. “Muchas gracias. Bueno.”

Almodóvar, who was a bold showman when he was younger, now carries himself in public at once tentatively and grandly. He clearly enjoys walking unimpeded through the city, but the cinema visits are telling—if you don’t want adulation, why go where you’ll certainly be recognized? He told me, in Spanish, that the advent of the selfie was a relief: “While you gave them an autograph, the other person tended to tell their whole life story.” Some of the fans at the Cine Renoir lingered anyway. Almodóvar’s movies—abiding closeups, conversations full of confidences—make people think he must be a good listener. Another older woman spotted him from inside the theatre and came out. “Wow,” she said. “Congratulations on ‘Julieta.’ I’ve seen all your movies!” Almodóvar seemed relieved to get into the dark. He sat down, folded a light jacket across his lap, and settled in.

Almodóvar began directing feature films in the late seventies. Among his early movies were “Dark Habits” and “Matador.” They featured transvestites, transgender people, bondage, rape, and lots of drug use and sex. His stories blurred the lines between gay and straight, coerced and consensual, comedy and melodrama, the funny and the repulsive, high and low art. It was all delivered with a puzzling cheerfulness that made the movies far more transgressive than if their tone had been serious. Spain had just emerged from decades of dictatorship and repression, and Almodóvar’s films suggested that the country had leaped from Opus Dei to the Mudd Club in a single bound. Critics could not decide whether Almodóvar was the most trivial filmmaker in history or the inventor of an important new strain of postmodernism.

In more recent years, Almodóvar has broadened his subject matter and his tone. He runs his own production company, El Deseo (Desire), with his brother, Agustín. Under the umbrella of El Deseo, Pedro makes whatever movie he wants. A new one comes out every couple of years, as with Woody Allen, but no two Almodóvar movies are alike. His aesthetic has become harder and harder to pin down. Critics regularly announce that he has finally left behind his taste for gender games and melodramatic plots with murdered spouses, only to have his next movie prove them wrong. In 2011, he released “The Skin I Live In,” a lurid thriller in which a plastic surgeon operates on the man who raped his daughter, transforming him into his own female lover. (At the film’s conclusion, the lover shoots him.) Three years later, Almodóvar released “I’m So Excited,” a fizzy comedy about an airline flight during which the male attendants get drunk and perform oral sex on the pilots. He merrily recalls the critical response: “How on earth! At your age, how could you?” “Julieta,” based on three linked short stories by Alice Munro, is Almodóvar at his most reflective and nuanced.

He can be a fierce critic of other Spanish-language filmmakers, but among those he admires is the forty-year-old Larraín. Almodóvar so dislikes what he calls los biopics that he joked to me that he’d inserted a clause into his will prohibiting anyone from making a movie about his life. But Larraín’s film impressed him. “Neruda” focusses on a moment in the poet’s life, a few years after the Second World War, when a hostile Chilean government forced him to flee over the Andes and into Argentina. In Larraín’s fantastical rendering, Neruda is pursued by a police official who is also a great reader; the pursuit becomes more metaphysical than real, a study of the seductions of narrative. Almodóvar watched mostly in silence, but when an actor playing Augusto Pinochet appeared, he made a very Spanish clucking noise with his tongue.

Afterward, he said that the film was lyrical and pretty, “emotional and, at the same time, abstract.” It was easy to detect Almodóvar’s influence on the movie: Neruda was portrayed as a Dionysian figure declaiming verse to half-naked prostitutes, and there was even a transvestite singer whose humanity slowly emerged from beneath his smeared makeup.

In front of the theatre, a row of five-pointed stars was visible in the dirty pavement. “Our Walk of Fame,” Almodóvar explained. “Have you ever seen a more humble thing?” The presence of the steel-and-white-marble stars in the dun concrete seemed ugly to Almodóvar. He has long had a difficult relationship with the Spanish cinema establishment, who helped install the walk in 2011. They have often underestimated his work, and he has lustily attacked them in return, critiquing the obscure nomination process for the Goya Awards, Spain’s equivalent of the Oscars. He joked, “I think they put the stars on the street so you could step on them.” They were in alphabetical order, but we were following them in reverse. We passed Buñuel and finally came to Almodóvar’s name: he was first.

He was beset by selfie-seekers again. He asked a man to wait to take a picture until he put his jacket on, but the man snapped it anyway, then raced off. “He didn’t even care if I got the other arm in!” Almodóvar said, bemused. Shoppers were hurrying past. Motorcycles roared, and there was a lot of honking. Fans kept gathering around him. “I’d better go,” he said. “This corner’s a little dangerous.” He got into his car, and his driver whisked him off.

Almodóvar was born in 1949, in the small town of Calzada de Calatrava, in the central Spanish region of Castilla-La Mancha. His father was a mule driver who led a team of twenty animals across the Sierra Morena to deliver wine to Jaén, in Andalucía. “It was something out of Bizet’s ‘Carmen’ or those novels of Théophile Gautier’s that take place in Spain,” Almodóvar recalls. “But in a time when there were cars and trucks.” He grew up mostly in the company of women. He fell in love with them singly and as a communal force. They were Spain’s secret power. “It was because of women that Spain survived the postwar period,” he says. In a 1988 interview, he described “the Spanish father” as “oppressive, repressive, castrating.” While the men were off working, the women nurtured the children and dealt with births, relationships, and deaths—what Almodóvar calls los problemas reales.

One of his fondest memories is of the women of Calzada chatting at the town cemetery as they tended the graves of their families’ dead. “It’s basically what you see in ‘Volver,’ ” he explained, referring to his 2006 movie, part of which is set near where he was born. “Death disappeared, because the important thing was the flowers, the conversations.” Clothes were washed in the river. “Every La Mancha house had huge interior patios,” he said. The women worked lace there and gossiped.

“Tops on the list were babies born out of marriage and suicides,” Almodóvar said. “People who threw themselves down the well or hanged themselves from the rafters.” He felt immediately the power of story. “It was a mixture of terror and vitality,” he said. “It was the origin of life and, at the same time, of fiction and fabulation.” As a boy who always felt different from his peers, he took away a second, less encouraging message: “I had no experience of anything, but I knew that this atmosphere was unnatural—or, at least, against my nature.” He added, “This was the last place I wanted to grow into adulthood.”

In 1958, when he was nine, Almodóvar moved, with his parents, brother, and two sisters, to Madrigalejo, a town in Extremadura, in Spain’s far west. His intelligence and sophistication already were clear. His mother started a small concern writing and reading letters for illiterate neighbors. Pedro soon realized that she was embroidering the texts she read to them. In a 1999 essay in El País, he wrote, “The local women didn’t realize it, because the made-up stuff was always an extension of their lives. They were delighted after she read it.”

His parents sent him to Catholic boarding school, planning to train him for the Church. He had a beautiful singing voice, and the priests admired him, but he hated the authoritarian education. Some of the priests sexually abused the students. The act of kissing the priest’s ring filled him with repulsion; in 2007, he told GQ that he “could almost literally see their hands dirtied with sperm.” Nevertheless, he was moved by the mystery and pageantry of Catholicism. “I am a posibilista,” Almodóvar told me repeatedly, a word that can mean both a practical person and an optimist. Rather than reject Catholicism, he made a bet with the Supreme Being. As he put it to me, “I would go to Mass for a year, and then He would show Himself.” But God remained invisible, and Almodóvar soon stopped confessing.

He had already found something else to worship. It came in the form of glamorous illustrations of actors, called cromos, which were included in packages of Matías López chocolates. “The world of those cromos—that’s where I knew I wanted to belong,” he said. “Not to a world where young women are locked away in their houses because they are pregnant.”

He and Agustín, who is seven years younger, became regular moviegoers. In Calzada, spectators were expected to bring their own chairs to screenings. “It was like Victor Erice’s ‘Spirit of the Beehive,’ where everyone brings a can with coal,” Almodóvar says. In the summer in Madrigalejo, movies were projected on a wall of a building that, at other times, was used by boys to piss on. “Basically, they put on spaghetti Westerns,” Almodóvar recalls. “But we also saw ‘Los Olvidados,’ by Buñuel, and ‘The Virgin Spring,’ by Bergman.” Those movies explored extremes of behavior, and knowing about such things made Almodóvar feel powerful. When he recounted the plot of the Buñuel to his sisters, he remembers, they looked at him almost with terror. He also saw Welles’s “Chimes at Midnight” and Antonioni’s “Night,” and fell in love with Jeanne Moreau, twice.

By then, Almodóvar had realized that he wanted not just to see movies but to make them, too. At the age of seventeen, he came home from Catholic school and told his parents that he was moving to Madrid. His father, he recalls, “threatened to turn me in to the National Guard.” Pedro replied, “Turn me in. I’m leaving.”

Almodóvar arrived in the capital in 1967, with daunting energy and a huge appetite for art and conversation. He soon had an impressive Mexican-style mustache and long hair. He took on various odd jobs, including working as a disk jockey in a barra americana—a dance hall of questionable character—and playing an extra in movies that needed hippies. In 1969, he became an office assistant at Telefónica, the national telephone company, and his employers came to depend on him. “He is a perfectionist, and every company needs a perfectionist,” Agustín Almodóvar said. Pedro kept track of broken telephones that were returned. He found the work easy; it was as good a score as Hawthorne’s job at the Salem customs house. While working there, he began the screenplay for his first feature film.

General Franco was still in power, and the repression was both political and cultural. His vicious regime had been hostile to avant-garde movie aesthetics. But by the time Almodóvar showed up in Madrid, Franco was in his mid-seventies, and the choke hold on artistic expression was loosening, at least in the major cities and at universities. Almodóvar intended to enroll in film school, but the city had only one, and Franco, viewing it as a center of Communism, had all but closed it. Being a posibilista, Almodóvar bought a Super 8 camera and began to shoot short films on his own. “I had no budget, no money,” he says. “The important thing was to make movies.” He wrote out complete scripts, even though his camera couldn’t record sound, and changed the characters depending on which of his friends showed up for a shoot. He avoided filming where he might bump into the authorities, and so he made several Biblical epics in the countryside, giving them, he says, “a bucolic and abstract air, the opposite of Cecil B. De Mille’s.” Since he had no money to buy lights, many of the scenes in his Super 8 movies were filmed on rooftops, in parks, and by windows. “Fortunately, Spain is a place with a lot of natural light,” Almodóvar says.

From the beginning, he was interested in the pathology of family relationships and the fluidity of sexuality—ideally, the intersection of the two. For “The Fall of Sodom,” filmed in 1975, he dressed the Sodomites in women’s clothing. Two years later, he made “Sexo Va, Sexo Viene”—“Sex Goes, Sex Comes”—a farce about a lesbian who abuses her boyfriend until he starts dressing like a woman.

The Super 8 movies are too damaged to be shown today, according to Almodóvar. They exist only in his retelling. He projected them for friends in bars, discos, and art galleries. He improvised dialogue, sometimes commenting on the acting, while Agustín, who had followed him to Madrid, provided a soundtrack with recorded music. “It became a sort of performance,” Almodóvar recalls.

Almodóvar’s movies, proudly sophomoric and raunchy, were part of a boisterous artistic and musical movement called La Movida, which was taking hold in Madrid, much of it in Malasaña, a barrio of run-down warehouses and dingy clubs. For inspiration, La Movida looked often to the punk and New Wave movements in England and America. “We imitated their life style,” Almodóvar says. “The way they sang, the way they lived. But it was also mixed up with something that was our own, and very idiosyncratic.” Visual artists, musicians, drug dealers, homosexuals, transvestites, and students gathered through the night in scrappy venues, translating Anglo-Saxon anomie and Teutonic angst into Hispanic vivacity, passion, and humor. A friend remembers Almodóvar showing up at events in a white SEAT sedan with four or five other young male artists, a group assumed to be gay. In fact, he told me, his sexuality was as fungible as one of his characters’. “I slept often with women, too,” he said. “I was bisexual until the age of thirty-four.”

La Movida was fuelled, in part, by drugs. Madrid had elected a new socialist mayor, and at a rock concert in the city’s sports stadium he astonished the citizenry by proclaiming, “If you aren’t already stoned, get stoned!” Almodóvar generally does not discuss his own experience with drugs, but in 1988 he told an interviewer that what he and Rainer Werner Fassbinder had in common was “we both like cocaine and we’re both fat.” As enthusiastically as Almodóvar participated in the night life of Malasaña, he always had one eye on the exit. “The fact that I had this clear and resounding goal meant that I could be in the middle of the current and not get swept away,” he says. He didn’t want to be a pasota—the word of the time for a slacker—or an experimental filmmaker in the Andy Warhol mode. What interested him about movies was their ability to tell heightened stories.

He initially tried to capture La Movida in prose, but decided that he didn’t have the talent for fiction. (He still describes himself as a “frustrated novelist.”) So he worked hard on his screenplays, giving them plenty of twists. Most Movida members focussed on art, music, or poetry, all of it cheap and quick. Almodóvar was capable of imagining larger enterprises that needed funding and the coöperation of other talented people. In the mid-seventies, he recalls, he appeared in a local production of Sartre’s “Dirty Hands,” taking “the smallest role in the play”—three lines. At the theatre, he became friends with an established actress by the name of Carmen Maura. He liked to watch her put on her makeup (a memory that finds an echo in the dressing-room intimacies of his 1999 film, “All About My Mother”). She went on to star in seven movies for him, becoming his most famous muse.

In the late seventies, Maura and another actor, Félix Rotaeta, helped Almodóvar graduate from the Super 8 short to the 16-mm. feature. They began a fund-raising campaign among their friends and raised eight thousand dollars. Meanwhile, an avant-garde magazine asked Almodóvar to write something “muy punk.” In response, he started a narrative fashioned from captioned images: “General Erections” was about a night-club competition over penis size. The winner got to ask anyone in the audience for any sex act he wanted. Franco had just died, and this sort of dirty humor resonated with Spaniards at the time. Many young people doubted the value of their new political freedom, but they never disparaged their sexual freedom.

Almodóvar did not publish the narrative, deciding that instead it should be the centerpiece of a film. He built around it a plot that seemed like a headlong remake of one of his favorite films, George Cukor’s “The Women.” The casting was casual. Alaska, a fourteen-year-old La Movida singer, became one of the film’s stars. “It mattered more what clothes you had than how you could act,” she says. The movie, “Pepi, Luci, Bom,” was shot on weekends over thirteen months; filming halted when there was no money. Almodóvar recalls spending the largest part of the budget on food and alcohol. “This was logical,” he said, on a Spanish talk show. “The people had to be content.”

“Pepi, Luci, Bom” is amateurish but winning, focussing, as nearly every Almodóvar film does, on relationships among women. Men are confined to supporting roles in which they are rarely supportive. Luci, a masochist, leaves her husband, a police officer, for Bom, a dominatrix. This leads to an Almodovarian irony: the police officer reacts to Luci’s embrace of sadomasochism by raping her, which leaves her in a hospital bed, expressing gratitude to him. The institution of marriage has prevailed!

The camera work is rough—Almodóvar himself starred as the master of ceremonies for the General Erections contest, and the framing of the shot accidentally cuts off his head. (“It didn’t seem important enough to repeat the shot,” he recalls.) But some of the acting is impressive, especially that of Carmen Maura, who, as Pepi, makes a lovely, good-humored impression. Almodóvar is already showing his skill at directing women, and in casting Maura as Pepi, the unshockable onlooker and gentle encourager of her friends, he was really casting himself. Javier Pérez-Grueso, an artist in the La Movida scene, who is known as Furia, recalls, “She was his alter ego—optimistic, gracious, and a bit zany.”

“Pepi, Luci, Bom” was shown at the San Sebastián Film Festival in 1980. Some critics savaged the low production values, but others argued that this attested to the film’s urgency and cultural authenticity. Who cared if the director hadn’t miked the actors properly? El Periódico perceptively praised Almodóvar as “a stubbornly passionate defender of substandard movies.” The film became a staple of late-night Madrid—a “Rocky Horror Picture Show” for the Spanish—and highly profitable.

Spanish producers began courting Almodóvar, but he fought them over creative control. He made his 1983 feature, “Dark Habits,” with money from the industrialist Jacques Hachuel, who insisted on casting his wife, Cristina Sánchez Pascual, in the starring role of a wayward dancer who enters a convent. Almodóvar didn’t think that Sánchez Pascual could sing or dance well enough to carry the movie, and so he expanded the roles of other, more talented actresses. “The final result is that they grew and Cristina shrank,” he remembers. The producer of his next project, “What Have I Done to Deserve This?,” tried, without success, to force Almodóvar to eliminate a character who had magical powers. “What they didn’t understand was that Pedro is a genius,” Agustín says. “And that his value is precisely his energy and his brilliance. You have to channel him, but you can’t put him in a straitjacket.”

In 1985, the brothers founded El Deseo, in part to protect Pedro from such battles. Agustín ran the business side. By profession, he was a chemistry teacher, but his relationship with Pedro was the crucial thing in his life. Agustín explained to me that his sole purpose at El Deseo is to help “Pedro make the movie he wants.” He has played bit parts in most of the movies.

The brothers agreed to strict rules. The movies would have modest budgets—around ten million dollars—which meant that Almodóvar forever after made movies in which people go in and out of rooms talking, rather than ones in which they blow each other up in cars. Creating his own production company allowed Pedro an unusual luxury: he could often shoot a movie from first page to last, rather than in the least expensive order. Almodóvar felt that a chronological approach yielded more persuasive performances. “I owe Agustín the independence and liberty that I enjoy as a director,” Pedro says. “It’s completely without precedent. Not even Scorsese himself has been able to do that.”

“Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” Almodóvar’s eighth feature and his second under El Deseo, was released in 1988. The movie began with a script based on Jean Cocteau’s play “The Human Voice,” in which a woman is heard on the phone speaking to an unseen lover who is breaking up with her. Almodóvar had made six movies in eight years, enjoying successively larger budgets and audiences. He wanted to return to his past, he told me, to make a “muy, muy underground film, with just one set.”

But the script felt too slight, and so he started the story forty-eight hours earlier, transforming Cocteau’s intense portrait of a woman in crisis into a farcical roundelay of various women betrayed by men and their own credulous, loving natures. The story was frantic to the point of giddiness, with a plot that pivoted around a blender of gazpacho, laced with sleeping pills, that the main character plans to offer to her unfaithful boyfriend. Some of the film’s hectic appeal came from the screwball script and some from its look—extraordinarily bright Pop-art sets that were filmed in a superwide format that echoed CinemaScope. The art direction seemed determined to erase the distinction between life and the lifelike. Everything in the movie—from the stagy view of the Madrid skyline to the gazpacho, which puts one person after another to sleep, as if they were characters in an operetta—seemed to belong more to the world of cromos than to reality.

“Women on the Verge” gave Maura her best role, as Pepa, the lovelorn but unsinkable reimagining of Cocteau’s despairing protagonist. “Our relationship was at its maximum intensity,” Almodóvar says. “I felt it was a miracle to have that instrument.” He cast the young Antonio Banderas as the male lead. For the role of Banderas’s virginal fiancée, Almodóvar selected Rossy de Palma, a musician with the high forehead, bulging eyes, and refracted nose of a Picasso. (The Times once called her “unforgettably strange-looking.”) The script called for De Palma to spend much of the film inert, after drinking Pepa’s gazpacho. At one point, she complained to Almodóvar that lying in a deck chair, pretending to be out cold, was boring. In response, Almodóvar wrote her a scene in which she dreams that she is having sex. “Good thing I was a pain and pushed him,” she recalls. “It got me that lovely orgasm.”

“Women on the Verge” was at once a spoof of, and an anthem to, a liberated Spain. Like the Movida scene that Almodóvar had emerged from, it was optimistic and eager to please. The film received an Oscar nomination and was an international box-office hit. His mother, however, was unimpressed with her son’s new fame: she told him that he should go back to his Telefónica job.

The troupe of actors who populated Almodóvar’s films became famous as well. Over the years, he assembled his team by hand, like George Clooney in “Ocean’s Eleven.” He recruited Rossy de Palma at a bar. He approached Antonio Banderas at the iconic Café Gijón, where the nineteen-year-old was relaxing with friends after a performance at the Teatro María Guerrero. Banderas remembers a fast-talking man with a red plastic briefcase sitting down with them: “He said to me, ‘You have a romantic face. You should be in movies.’ And then he left.” Shortly afterward, Banderas was offered a role in “Labyrinth of Passion.” Penélope Cruz received a phone call after appearing in a Spanish comedy. “My friend said, ‘Almodóvar is on the phone.’ I thought it was a joke.” She felt honored to speak to him. “He was almost a political figure, a representation of change, of democracy,” she recalls. He promised her, “I’m going to write you a small character.” It was a part in the 1997 melodrama “Live Flesh.” She has since appeared in four more of his feature films. Almodóvar and his actors became fixtures on the Madrid restaurant circuit. “We were almost like the Rolling Stones,” Banderas says. “We were a group. We would go out to clubs and dinners and travel together. People would say, ‘Here comes the Almodóvar gang.’ ”

Almodóvar’s apartment is a few blocks from the Malasaña district, which is now thoroughly sanitized. He lives alone, except for a cat named Lucio, who, in proper Almodóvar fashion, has switched genders. In 2010, during the filming of “The Skin I Live In,” in Toledo, local children left a cat with one of the set porters, asking that it be called Lucía by its next owner. The cat was passed on to Almodóvar, and it turned out that the children had not looked carefully enough between its legs. “We had an instant sex change!” Almodóvar jokes, adding, “A cat is the right pet for a selfish writer.” He explained, “If you dedicate your life to the movies, to writing or painting, the life you can offer another person is very precarious. I couldn’t have the strength or the right to ask another person to accept this sort of life.” Similar words are spoken by the world-weary director Pablo in his 1987 movie, “Law of Desire.” The Spanish papers report that he remains in a long-term relationship with a photographer who has had small roles in his movies, but Almodóvar is steadfast in saying that he has no partner.

Almodóvar’s infatuation with his adopted city has cooled. “I don’t want to sound disappointed,” he declares, sounding that way. “But Madrid and I are like a fifty-year-long marriage. We’re based more in routine than excitement.” Madrid, he grouses, is turning into a Spanish Oslo; then again he has grown more staid himself. He has long since stopped going to night clubs: “I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. And I don’t do drugs.” Cigarette smoke bothers him, and he is deaf in one ear and losing his hearing in the other—worrisome for a director who is so attuned to script and voice that he tries never to watch dubbed movies.

The walls of Almodóvar’s living room are orange, and on them he has hung four surrealist Man Ray photographs, including one of an iron with tacks stuck to the soleplate. Nearby is a Warhol silk screen of a bright-yellow cow. There are also objects of more personal significance, including a sculpture, by Miquel Navarro, of a seated man with a penis like a piece of pipe. It plays a prominent role in “Julieta.” “Pick it up—it’s surprisingly heavy,” Almodóvar said, noting that he was repeating a moment from the film. I also saw a picture frame, encrusted with blue marbles, that is identical to the one smashed onto the floor in “The Flower of My Secret.” A photograph of Almodóvar’s beloved mother, who died in 1999, now occupies the frame. Almodóvar’s shelves are as full of playful figurines and gaudy magnets as a Tribeca toy store. Over all, the apartment has the continually dusted look of a prominent artist’s studio. Almodóvar has a cook, and while we were talking his personal assistant, a young man in shorts, hovered nearby. This was Osama. If Almodóvar wanted tea, Osama made it for him. (Osama, too, gets a cameo in “Julieta.”)

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