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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 11 February, 2003, 16:44 GMT
Almodovar's international impact
Pedro Almodovar with Penelope Cruz at the Golden Globes 2000
Pedro Almodovar with Penelope Cruz at the Golden Globes 2000
Spanish director Pedro Almodovar's Oscar for best original screenplay has built on his long-standing reputation for brilliant originality to become one of the most successful non-English language directors.

Pedro Almodovar's latest film, Talk To Her, earned him the Academy's best original screenplay award and a nomination for best director.

He should not underestimate how much his Oscar victory means - it takes a lot to persuade Hollywood to sit through a movie with subtitles, let alone name its director as one of the best film-makers in the world.

Talk To Her has been one of the most successful non-English language films of the year, and has resulted in Almodovar breaking out of the "foreign film" ghetto.

PEDRO ALMODOVAR'S GREATEST HITS
Talk To Her (2002)
All About My Mother (1999)
Live Flesh (1997)
High Heels (1991)
Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990)
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988)
Law of Desire (1987)
Matador (1986)
In 2000, his film All About My Mother won the Oscar for best foreign film - a huge achievement - but his success in a mainstream category for Talk To Her show that Hollywood now sees him on a new level.

The story of two men who are forced to look after their girlfriends when they go into comas, Talk To Her marks almost 30 years of film-making for Almodovar and 15 years of international acclaim.

It has earned Almodovar a place alongside names like Scorsese and Polanski on the best director nomination list.

But, ironically, Talk To Her did not feature in the best foreign film category.

That was not because it was not good enough - but because it was not eligible.

Each country is allowed to put just one foreign language film forward for that category and, embarrassingly in the light of Almodovar's nominations, Spain chose Fernando Leon's Mondays In The Sun - which has not been nominated.

Cult favourite

If the Spanish authorities had chosen Talk To Her instead, that would almost inevitably have led to a third nomination.

But the Academy members have given an unmistakable sign that they consider Almodovar one of the best foreign directors of the current era.

It also marks his transition from kitsch cult favourite to respected - if not always totally respectable - auteur.

The 51-year-old is often described as a "women's director" because many of his films have revolved around strong, sympathetic female characters.

Almodovar with a Spanish Goya Award
He has won a string of Spanish Goya Awards
In Talk To Her, the women are central - even though they are in comas - and the men are confused and emotionally disturbed.

His films also give the centre stage to those on the edges of society - prostitutes, transvestites, transsexuals, drug addicts, depressed housewives, nymphomaniacs and pregnant nuns.

His plots are stuffed with improbabilities and unexpected twists, but his characters and their tragedies are treated with immense compassion.

They are hugely stylish films and, in their themes (passion, death, religion) and sense of humour (often absurd, sometimes cruel), they are unmistakably Spanish.

Almodovar attributes his skill in creating red-blooded female characters to the women of his native La Mancha - the arid, conservative region of central Spain where he grew up with his mother and a bevy of strong women who battled with the machismo of Spanish society in the 1950s and 60s.

Pedro Almodovar
Almodovar has been wooed by Hollywood
Arriving in Madrid in 1968, he made a living buying and selling bits and pieces in Madrid's flea market and saved up to buy a Super 8 camera.

During the 1970s, he made almost a dozen shorts, mainly sex comedies, as well as writing the fictional diary of a porn star and singing in a rock group.

He also became a seminal member of the nascent underground scene which was to blossom after the death of Franco in 1975 into the Madrid-based cultural movement known as La Movida.

His first feature film - 1980's Pepi, Luci, Bom - was a raw, punk explosion of sex, violence and sick humour, and he proceeded to write and direct virtually a film a year, gathering a family of actors and technicians, honing his skills and polishing his style.

Launched careers

He began to get noticed in the late 1980s with films like Law of Desire, about a sexually disorientated film-maker, and colourful farce Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.

Both starred a rising actor by the name of Antonio Banderas, who was catapulted to fame by Almodovar, but who now is reportedly too expensive to act in his films.

Almodovar also helped launch the career of Penelope Cruz, who stole the opening scenes of 1997's Live Flesh by giving birth on a bus, and was one of the stars of All About My Mother.

Now more serious than his early kitsch days, he is seen as a maverick with a golden touch.


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