Philadelphia Film Society to showcase Pedro Almodóvar’s filmography

A scene from ‘Law of Desire.’

The Philadelphia Film Society is offering a retrospective of eight films by gay writer/director Pedro Almodóvar in June with Absolutely Almodóvar!. His distinctive brand of cinema is incredibly stylish, featuring terrific colors and visuals, complex, melodramatic plotting and — of course — a queer sensibility.  

One of Almodóvar’s best features, and possibly his gayest film, is 1987’s “Law of Desire.” (June 8 at 4 p.m.; June 9 at 1 p.m.; June 12 at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.). Opening with a sexy scene of a handsome young man stripping naked and masturbating for a disembodied voice off-screen, this dark comedy about gay romantic obsession involves a lovesick gay filmmaker named Pablo (Eusebio Poncela), his trans sister (Carmen Maura) and a sexy man (Antonio Banderas) who will stop at nothing, including murder, to possess Pablo. Almodóvar’s campy, anarchic spirit is apparent in every frame.

Almodóvar took the themes of “Law of Desire” to dizzying new heights in his 2005 film, “Bad Education” (June 22 at 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.; June 23 at 3:45 p.m.), which featured Almodóvar’s first gay protagonist since “Law of Desire.” In this stunning noirish melodrama, the irresistible Gael García Bernal plays multiple roles — including one in drag. His character gets involved in sexual obsession, identity, blackmail, and revenge as well as murder. The story begins with Ignacio (Bernal), an actor who is now called Ángel, reuniting with Enrique (Fele Martínez), a childhood friend who is now a filmmaker. Ángel has brought a story along called “The Visit,” which describes Ignacio’s and Enrique’s youth realistically — but also imagines what might have happened between these characters when they grew up. Wary of this at first, Enrique becomes very interested in this story upon reading it. However, the truth of the tale, Enrique learns, proves to be stranger than fiction. The filmmaker agrees to take on the project as much for its content as an excuse to get to know the fascinating Ángel further. It would spoil Almodóvar’s clever plotting to reveal how the stories evolve. Suffice it to say, Enrique and Ángel get caught up in a twisted, tricky relationship that involves the production of “The Visit.” When Enrique and Ángel decide to enter into an intense physical relationship, it blurs exactly who is taking advantage of whom. 

Also screening in Absolutely Almodóvar! is “All About My Mother” (May 31 at 4 p.m.and 7 p.m.; June 1 at 1:30 p.m.; June 4 at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.), from 1999, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. Chronicling the lives of a handful of women that intersect after the death of Manuela’s (Cecilia Roth) son, this melodrama features heart transplants, an HIV+ trans person impregnating a nun (Penélope Cruz), and homages to “All About Eve” and “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

A scene from ‘Talk To Her.’

Almodóvar won the Oscar for the Best Original Screenplay — for his 2022 film, “Talk to Her,” (June 16 at 1 p.m.; June 17 at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.) which depicts the relationships that form between two men caring for a pair of women in comas. The story goes off in an unexpected direction after one of the comatose characters becomes pregnant in a rape scene that is played as farce. 

Easily Almodóvar’s funniest film was his 1988 international breakout hit, “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” (June 8 at 1:30 p.m.; June 9 at 3:30 p.m.; June 10 at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.). This farcical comedy has Pepa (Carmen Maura), an actress, processing a sudden breakup when she is distracted by her best friend Candela’s (María Barranco) drama involving Shiite terrorist cell; her ex’s son Carlos (Antonio Banderas) and his fiancée, Marisa (Rossy de Palma) arriving in her apartment; and Lucia (Julieta Serrano), who has recently been released from a mental hospital. Stir in spiked gazpacho, a zany cab driver, and a gun and hilarity ensues.

A scene from ‘Volver.’

In contrast, “Volver” (June 1 at 4 p.m.; June 2 at 1 p.m., 3:45 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.; June 6 at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.) is a somber female-centric melodrama about mothers, sisters and daughters and the secrets that they share as well as keep from each other. The film also benefits from a group of excellent performances — most notably from Carmen Maura — who returns to work with Almodóvar after almost two decades (and a feud) — and in the lead role, the luminous Penélope Cruz. Almodóvar again plays with his favorite themes — sex, lies and fantasy — and he also plays with vivid colors, especially his trademark red. This somber film is about “the past coming back to confront my life.” Raimunda (Cruz) is an overworked mother who learns that her husband Paco (Antonio de la Torre) has died at the hands of her daughter, Paula (Yohana Cobo) when he tried to sexually assault her. As she’s cleaning up the mess, Raimunda learns that her aunt Paula died, too. What she does not know is that her mother, Irene (Carmen Maura) has returned from the dead, and is now paying a visit to her sister Sole (Lola Dueñas). As the layers of truth about the family’s history start to reveal themselves, the connections become clear and resonate.

Rounding out the program are two of the director’s most controversial films. 

Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” (June 3 at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.; June 24 at 4 p.m.and 7 p.m.), from 1990, has Ricky (Antonio Banderas), an escaped mental patient, kidnapping Marina, (Victoria Abril) a former porn star. It was slapped with an NC-17 for a just explicit enough scene that involved Abril’s character pleasuring herself in the tub with a ticklish, probing bath toy. Considering the fact that this film — which Almodóvar treats as a dark romance — contains bondage and abuse, it’s surprising that the “sex” scene is the one in question. 

A scene from ‘The Skin I Live In.’

In “The Skin I Live In,” (June 15 at 9 p.m.; June 18 at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.) from 2011, Almodóvar reteams with Antonio Banderas for the first time in 20-plus years. As Robert Ledgard, a plastic surgeon who keeps Vera (Elena Anaya) prisoner in his isolated house, Banderas, plays another mentally unhinged Almodóvar character (See “Law of Desire” and “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!”). But while Almodóvar provides his typical over-the-top flourishes as a filmmaker, and Banderas exudes a cool, sinister calm as the mad-as-a-hatter doctor, “The Skin I Live In” is an ugly, unpleasant film. Almodóvar punishes his characters — and viewers — by having the females raped, kidnapped, held hostage/imprisoned, insane and suicidal. Some are even murderers. However, none of them ever emerge as real human beings. 

Absolutely Almodóvar! will take place May 31-June 24 at PFS East Theater, 125 S 2nd Street. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit

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