Home Institution

Harvard University

Publication Date

Spring 2006

Program Name

Spain: Cultural Landscapes and the Arts

Abstract

Pepi, a young, beautiful, and thoroughly modern woman, answers her door one morning to discover a police officer. His apartment faces Pepi’s balcony so he has seen her growing drugs illegally and has come to arrest her. In a desperate attempt to escape punishment, Pepi offers the policeman sexual favors with one condition—that he not have sex with her because she is, in fact, a virgin. Neither interested in her virginity nor her rights, the police officer rapes her. And, from this moment forward, Pepi plots her revenge. The opening scene of Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón (1980) is the first image of the feature length film career of Spanish director and screenwriter, Pedro Almodóvar. His depiction of Pepi is anything but the norm for Spain in the 1980s—she lives alone, is independently wealthy, sexually promiscuous, trendy, and most importantly, independent. In many ways this initial image is a manifestation of what Almodóvar’s film career will become—a controversial body of work that, like Pepi, is a unique voice in an often traditional world. Almodóvar’s career began in the 1980s following the death of dictator Francisco Franco during La Movida, a type of artistic and cultural renaissance in Spain that included a budding feminist movement. Although his career took off during this period, his true education began much earlier in the pueblos of the famed Spanish plains of La Mancha in a world populated by women—his mother, grandmother, sisters, and neighbors. It was through the experiences of this youth that Almodóvar developed his beliefs about the lives of Spanish women and later in the artistic climate of La Movida that he was, for the first time, able to commit these beliefs to film. Today, we are left with 16 extraordinary movies that have not only revolutionized Spanish cinema, but too, have made important contributions to Spanish culture. His films generally depict the world of Spanish women. He presents this world through a full spectrum of characters—mothers, daughters, drag queens, transvestites, nuns, lesbians, and housewives. These women find themselves in extreme and often suffocating situations, usually at the hands of men. They must, through the course of his films, learn to trust themselves and use their own strength and will power to escape their repressive situations. Almodóvar, in this way, gives Spanish women a voice through his cinema that may also translate more generally to the world beyond the screen. His societal influence seems all the more likely with his extraordinary popularity. Seen by millions, the question becomes what effect have his films had on their viewers? More specifically, what effect have his films had on the real lives of Spanish women that he so often depicts? This is the question my independent study project seeks to answer. Media, especially pervasive and popular media has an inevitable effect on its viewer but gauging that effect can often prove problematic. I have taken a four pronged approach to this dilemma. First I examine the life and history of Pedro Almodóvar utilizing a variety of sources that include published interviews with the filmmaker himself. Next, I exam his life and his films in the context of the feminist movement and La Movida in Spain. Both his life and La Movida are vitally important to not only understanding his films, but too their cultural influence and popularity. Thirdly, I provide a textual analysis of the films, looking closely at the representation of his female protagonist. And lastly, I gauge the perspectives of contemporary Spanish women through a series of formal and informal interviews with women of a variety of backgrounds, ages, and social classes. Though inherently limited by time and access, I believe these insights provide an important insight into the effect his films have had on Spanish society. As we will see, it seems, they have served to some extent to normalize the image of the socially and economically liberated Spanish female and have contributed to an ongoing debate about the status of women in contemporary Spanish society.

Disciplines

Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Film and Media Studies

 

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