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Oscars 2000 Wednesday, 22 March, 2000, 12:22 GMT
Spain's enfant terrible
Almodovar and Penelope Cruz
Almodovar with Penelope Cruz at the Golden Globes
By the BBC's Lucie Maguire

Pedro Almodovar's Oscar for best foreign film has sealed his transition from kitsch cult favourite to respected - if not always totally respectable - auteur.

The 48-year-old director of All About My Mother has, by common consent, produced his most mature film to date, but he's done it without sacrificing the trademark ingredients that gave him his original reputation as the enfant terrible of European cinema.
More wins at the Goya film awards in Barcelona
All his 13 movies to date create an intensely emotional world, held together by women - or by men who would be women - in which the centre stage is occupied by people from the edges of society - prostitutes, transvestites, transsexuals, drug addicts, depressed housewives, nymphomaniacs and pregnant nuns.

With more than a passing nod at the Hollywood melodramas of yesteryear, his plots are stuffed with improbabilities, but his characters and their varying tragedies and tribulations are treated with immense compassion.
Almodovar films of the 1990s
All About My Mother (1999)
Live Flesh (1998)
The Flower of My Secret (1995)
Kika (1993)
High Heels (1991)
Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990)
They are hugely stylish films and, in their themes (passion, death, religion) and sense of humour (often absurd, sometimes cruel), 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 daily with the machismo of Spanish society in the 1950s and 60s.

Underground scene

Arriving in Madrid in 1968, he made a living buying and selling bits and pieces in Madrid's flea market, the Rastro, until he took a job with the state telephone company.
Almodovar with French actress Emanuelle Beart
He saved up to buy a Super 8 camera and from 1972 to 1978 made almost a dozen shorts, mainly sex comedies with titles like The Fall of Sodom (1975) and Two Tarts: A Love Story That Ends In Marriage (1974).

Meanwhile, he wrote the fictional diary of a porn star, Patti Diphusa, sang in a rock group, and 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.

Shot on 16mm and blown up to 35mm for public release in 1980, his first feature film - Pepi, Luci, Bom - was a raw, punk explosion of sex, violence and sick humour.

The plot revolves around a woman who is raped by a policeman after he arrests her for growing marijuana. She gets her revenge by persuading his masochistic battered wife to leave him.

He proceeded to write and direct virtually a film a year, gathering around him a family of actors and technicians, honing his skills and polishing his style.

Star favourites

The versatile Carmen Maura featured in six out of his seven first films until Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown (1988) - the director's breakthrough into international fame - after which they quarrelled.
Penelope Cruz in All About My Mother
Other names crop up habitually in his cast lists, such as the tiny wizened Chus Lampreave (the lizard-loving grandmother in What Have I Done To Deserve This?) and the Picasso-esque Rossy de Palma.

Another regular is his own mother (stage name Francisca Caballero), who sadly died shortly after All About My Mother - his tribute to her and to all mothers - was completed.
Almodovar films of the 1980s
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988)
Law of Desire (1987)
Matador (1986)
What Have I Done to Deserve This? (1984)
Dark Habits (1983)
Labyrinth of Passion (1982)
Pepi, Luci, Bom (1980)
The three main stars of All About My Mother have also worked with him before: Cecilia Roth - the grieving Manuela in Mother - was there at the start with Pepi (1980), Labyrinth of Passions (1982), Dark Habits (1983), and What Have I Done To Deserve This? (1984).

Marisa Paredes - the actress Huma Rojo in Mother - was in Dark Habits (1983), High Heels (1991), and The Flower of My Secret (1995); and the now firmly Hollywood-bound Penelope Cruz - pregnant Sister Rosa - stole the opening scenes of Live Flesh (1997) by giving birth on a bus.

Hollywood moves

His most famous protégé is Antonio Banderas, who has smouldered his way through five Almodovar films - playing everything from a deranged stalker to a gay Islamic terrorist in Labyrinth Of Passions (1982), Matador (1986); Law Of Desire (1987) and Women On the Verge (1988).
Almodovar with his star actor, Antonio Banderas
Some time after their last project, Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down in 1990, when Banderas had gone on to star in The Mambo Kings, Evita and the rest, Almodovar was reported as dismissing him as having become "un Americano".

Regardless of whether Almodovar wins the Academy's vote on 26 March, he already has the Hollywood seal of approval.

US studios have been making overtures ever since Women On The Verge, asking him to direct "chick flicks" and zany comedies such as Sister Act, First Wives Club and To Wong Foo Thanks For Everything Julie Newmar.

Plans for a remake of Women On The Verge with Jane Fonda fell through, but there is already talk of a US version of All About My Mother.

It looks, though, as if the Spaniard - who set up his own production company El Deseo with brother Agustin in 1987 - will be coming to Hollywood on his own terms.

For his next project, he is expected to direct The Paperboy, adapted from a Pete Dexter novel - a rather sombre, and rather grown-up murder story.

See also:

20 Sep 99 | Entertainment
30 Jul 99 | Entertainment
24 May 99 | Entertainment
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