(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching, why it’s worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)
The Movies: Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, The Skin I Live In, Volver, The Human Voice, Bad Education, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Broken Embraces, Pepi, Luci, Bom, take your pick.
Where You Can Stream It: HBO Max
The Pitch: Pedro Almódovar is a queer auteur who has directed many classics of LGBTQ cinema — Bad Education, Julieta, and his most recent masterwork Pain and Glory among them — but you could argue that any film from the Spanish filmmaker’s catalogue is inherently queer. And Pride Month is almost over, so here’s your chance to watch 8 of his films and argue against me.
Why It’s Essential Viewing: Because a bunch of Pedro Almodóvar’s are streaming on HBO Max, and why haven’t you watched them yet?
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly following the release of his heartwrenching masterwork Pain and Glory, an Antonio Banderas-starring drama that feels like the magnificent culmination of Almódovar’s entire career (and is annoyingly one of his films not streaming on HBO Max), Almodóvar admits that he doesn’t see himself as an activist, despite being so such a trailblazer in queer cinema. “I’ve never thought of myself as an activist, right? I wanted to put this on screen, but someone who just tells the story of real life as it is.”
He continued, “I happened to be surrounded by queer people, transgender people, people who also lived their lives in full acceptance of themselves. And this is what you then see reflected in my films. What I, of course, was aware of is the way that society perhaps had a problem with these people.”
To spare you a retrospective of Almodóvar’s entire career, which began with his 1980 debut film Pepi, Luci, Bom before he earned his breakthrough international success with 1988’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Almodóvar is a filmmaker who trades in melodrama — both the emotional and aesthetic variety. Subtlety is not in his filmmaking language, whether it’s in the bright, brassy bold colors of his films that threaten to hurt your eyes, or whether it’s in the big emotions and outsized desires of his characters. And while melodrama is a genre typically associated with “women’s cinema” (think soap operas, the Douglas Sirk classics which Nicholas Sparks blatantly ripped off), it’s also been widely embraced by the queer community. It’s the combination of unapologetic emotionality and repressed sexuality that makes melodrama so appealing to LGBTQ watchers — a sexuality which Almodóvar, of course, goes out of his way to set free.
Naked sexuality and a fearlessness to tackle of all the things that it contains — kinks, guilty pleasures, even the horrors of sexual assault — is only part of the queerness inherent in Almodóvar’s films. There are a couple other things that can often be read as queer that always pop up in Almodóvar’s films: found families, complexity of female relationships (Volver, one of my favorite Almodóvar films, notably has barely any men in it), an acceptance of desire as part of our make-up and interactions with the world. While Almodóvar may dislike being pigeonholed as a gay filmmaker, it’s unquestionable that his complex and loving inclusion of queer elements in his films make Almodóvar one of the great queer auteurs.
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