Pedro Almodovar is an auteur in Spanish national and art cinema. His films always explore the issues such as sexuality, transgender and women’s life where friends and lovers replace the parents and family. In a post-feminism point of view, he disestablished the feminism but highlights the positions of both female characters and actress. His works are more targeted to women and give female audience a resonance on motion.
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All About My Mother is a film Almodovar made in 1999. It stills an impressive work to discover the deep feeling of women when suffering from the dead of son and lover. The storyline describe a single mother Manuela witness his son die in a car accident when he run to ask for an autograph. And then she wants to find the father in Barcelona. In Barcelona, she meets her transgender friends, the lesbian couple and a young nun Rosa.
The whole film interspersed with these several women’s interesting and dumbfounding stories. Some of them encounter the issues of transsexual or AIDS which make their characteristics more rounded. This title not only refers to Manuela but also point to women who were and would be mother, as well the actress.
The opening scene is a smoothly and masterful camera movement in hospital. It follows the plastic infusion tube, with the blurred background and a sad music to heighten the atmosphere. The cast list in a bloody color fade in and out like the blood flowing. Without saying any word, just use a montage skill to show there is a patient or accident. Almodovar are the master of using misn-en-scene. The next scenes are still using camera movement show the medical machine. After the still of ECG, Manuela suffers the pain from death and faces other’s organ donation which she need to solve later (her son’s organ donation).
Almodovar emphasises not only the mise-en-scene, but also the collocation of color. I think it is the aesthetics of Almdovar. The scene that Manuela cooking in the kitchen, the blue cupboard and the red cloth and tomato join together make a strong Almodovar style. Gathering blue and red maybe is a habitual technique of Almodovar. The son’s clothe is also blue and sit together with his mother’s red. In the bedroom of Esteban, this style gets more highlights. The red wall assembled with the blue bed and chair. I can see red everywhere for instance later Huma’s hair and cloth as well.
The film is filled with references. At the beginning, Manuela and her son sit on sofa and watch the old Hollywood film All About Eve (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1950, USA). That movie talking about the actress named Eve, the same way was used to reflect the story in All About My Mother, it talk about mothers and women who have relationship with acting. In All About Eve, they also mention the fans and acting issues. When watching the film, the son Esteban finds that the Spanish television station always changes the title of the movies and use dub instead of original sound track which are references from the society. In this scene, Esteban writing on his notebook has a brilliant camera angle. The camera use both the POV of Esteban and the notebook, we can see Esteban writing ‘Todo sobre mi madre’ (original title in Spanish) from his hand moving. Then the title of this film appeared very smoothly. After watching the film, Manuela shares the only half photo she took when she was a actress. The camera follows the cracks and down while shows Esteban looking at the picture and later he will mention that the other half would be his ‘father’.
And the play prepared for Esteban’s script in the hospital course, Manuela act a mother whose husband already dead and only have a son to bring up. That’s make me confused weather it is true at the first time, but I recognized that is a self-reference again. The background music and Manuela’s skillful acting make it so really.
Then it is the classical scene of the whole film. Manuela waits Esteban on the other side of the street. The panoramic view show the poster so big that even the pixels can be seen very clearly. This classic Almodovar poster becomes greatly popular in the film industry. I saw many books about the Spanish film use this as a cover. The car accident was shot very different with other’s or Hollywood movies. Last second I saw Manuela smiles and next second I heard the shocking screaming. Usually, in the classical Hollywood films, the directors often make it the opposite sequences which first the crash and then the screaming. That’s the obvious difference exist between art cinema and Hollywood cinema. Almodovar also used the POV of the driver cross the blurred window to catch the Esteban running on the street in the rain. And then the shaking and rotation camera movement (POV of Esteban) to represent Esteban were hit by the car. Through the eye of Esteban, I saw Manuela shouted and run towards to her son but without synchronized soundtrack. This is a way to stress the sadness of Manuela rather than film and acting.
The play A Streetcar Named Desire (Tennessee Williams, 1948, USA) within drama were shown and Manuela have acted a role in a same name stage play years before when meet the father. Both the stage play and the film are narrate the pain and the perplexed about life. Manuela acted Stella while met Esteban’s father who act Kowalski. The idea in this play is the same as the film in some degree. Both show the confusion in women’s heart.
The film mention the word ‘escape’, for instance, Manuela escape to Madrid Barcelona, and 17 years later, she go back to Barcelona still because she want escape. Escaping to a new circumstance is a turning point of character’s life and plot.
Then those subplots mess together with the exaggerated circumstances reference from the main story.
Manuela meets her friend Agrado and through her knows the kind-heart nun Rosa. In Barcelona, Manuela watchs the same stage play again. When she looks at the other side of the road, we through her POV see the recall and illusion of Esteban. But when the camera turned to her, the seat beside her is empty (through the audience’s POV). These editing skills touched me because the mother misses the son so much. This is the very treasure and common feeling in the world so it can be very easy to reach the deep emotion of audience.
As an assistant of Huma is the new job of Manuela. When she help Huma to find Nina, Huma said: ‘Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers’ (a street car named desire), that is a small reference but this idea lead the whole story. Rosa got pregnancy is a big twists and turns. Manuela tells her own story to Rosa when accompany her to hospital. She said: ‘Women will do anything to avoid being alone.’ That is the same as the desire of Blanche in A streetcar named Desire, but the most time the reality always goes opposite with desire.
Nina got drug gives Manuela a chance to go back to stage to review her history. And her acting got a big success. This gets the contradiction of Manuela and the couple. Manuela said: ‘A streetcar named desire has marked my life.’ In my opinion, this sentence summarised her life on not only her life content but life style as well.
The prostitute, transgender, drug additions, lesbian and AIDS these sensitive issues are all point out by Almodovar. These elements make the film more exaggerated. Sometimes make us feel fun, but next second move us make people cry.
The scene Agrado entertain the audience with her life story, I saw it is a helpless action no matter on the show cancellation or spending money on her body. I do not know whether she want to be a women or not, but it is true that she need the money and live. Everyone in the film has a burden. In the darkness of life under pressure, the new things always mean the change and getting better such as the escape (I mentioned above). When Rosa wants to name the child ‘Esteban’, it is to memorize the only two male characters in the main story. Esteban is the Lura, Manuela’s son and Rosa’s son. In the end, the baby do not have AIDS, give us the hope to new birth and put the history down.
Like Almodovar write in the end: ‘To all actresses who have played actresses, to all women who act, to men who act and become women, to all the people who want to be mothers, to my mother.’
Almodovar’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
This Spanish comedy film is also an Almodovar’s work. It was made in 1988 and won many awards. This film is the It still tells a story about women suffering from the life and troubles. This one is a more melodrama which will contains a lot if music and romance. The emotion using is stressed in this kind of film.
This film is around a man’s three lovers. Pepa is on the verge of a break up with her lover Ivan. She wants to find him and to know why he is left. She even asks his wife and his son, but they do not know as well. Almodovar always want to describe a complex narrative. This work as well. Pepa’s friends Candela ask help from because the criminal actives her boyfriend involved. And Ivan’s son and his crazy wife comes one after the other. They make a ridiculous and humor story together. It is said that this one is Almodovar’s favorite one. ‘Women issues, complex relationships, weird appearance, brilliant colors, soap-opera styling setting and the Spanish folk music are the reflection of the unique Almodovar’s style.’ (baidu) This film got a self-reference in Almodovar’s new film Broken Embraces in 2009. And it also reinforces the establishment of Almodovar’s ‘female director’.
Voice actor who dubs the foreigner films is what Pepa’s work. The dub film issue is again in the All About My Mother (when showing All About Eve, dub film is common in Spain, the director related to the Spanish film industry). The film is still related to acting. Pepa fainted after dubbing is a represent that she got too deep in her acting, still almodovar explore the women’s acting world. She thought she was talking to Ivan. In Almodovar’s film, women like to create illusion. The conversation also shows the statues of their relationship. The black and white scene at the beginning is so special that let audience know the personality and job of Ivan.
Pepa said: ‘I hate tranquil’ and throw the sleeping pills into the tomato juice. (In Almodovar’s film, the red tomatoes often show up because the tomato stands a place in Spanish culture, a Spanish characteristic.) This sentence give the same meaning as the ‘women will do anything to avoid being along’ in All About My Mother. They need accompany as Almodovar explore in his female films. Then she burns her bed. She wants to forgot the unhappy things and start from new. Pack up the suitcase for Ivan while crying. In Almodovar’s world, although the powerful, women are weak on the emotional problems. The scene Pepa waiting outside is still a reference from the Rear Window of Alfred Hitchcock. With a strange music, it almost build a atmosphere of suspense that where is Ivan really going. To observe the people in the window let Pepe know his son.
These many ridiculous and humor stories are linked together closely. The contradictions between Pepa and Lucia then the lawyer, Carlos and Marisa are the interspersion. Pepa is affectionate as in the end she stops Lucia to kill Ivan and gives up to get him again.
Lucia is the craziest women. Her clothing style is always so bright which like a young girl.
The scene she rides on the motorbike is boring if without her explosive hair style and the smoked makeup. The crazy avenger is send to hospital in the end. She needs to put her passionate emotion down and clam. She also admits that she has the mental illness. This let think whether she is still ill or she just want to back to the hospital to get peace.
The lawyer is just a supporting role. There is not many descriptions about her. When the disc is thrown to her head and the record box is throw on her car very coincidently make all audience laugh. She is just a represent of the women in Ivan’s life.
Candela is weak and young girl. She often makes audience laugh. For instance, her jumping, her trouble and her call to the police. Her love to men seems just about sex. The stupid behaviors make her likes a child who needs help.
As the customary practices of Almodovar, the mise- en-scene and the color are the significant issues in shooting. From the opening scene I can see the colorful posters and many signs of women such as the high heel, lipstick, beautiful hands and red flowers. Many alarm clock in Pepa’s bedside cabinet shows she is not a clam person. And they walking so fast also show them a bit of crazy. The burned bed, red nail polish and cloth is also a kind of signs that people are easy lead by their emotion. In color, Almodovar still likes using red. The cloth and tomatoes red are everywhere in his movies. And the balcony’s scenery seems so faked. I feel it like a indoor studio. The red ground and the so blue sky. Again, this color collocation. In her house, the domestic bird’s cage is a dumbfounding props. Her hope for the bird couples are better is a kind of helpless after break up.
The telephone is the bridge of communication between Ivan and his lover. Because Ivan always lies and that makes him shamed and be afraid of facing to those women love him. Like the voice actor job, he uses voice to cover the truth. He is afraid to see those women. For example, when he gets the suitcase back he does not want to see Pepa.
And the most interesting and brilliant props is the Mambo taxi (he looks like Almodovar himself). The taxi driver makes it like a small home with enough entertainment such as newspaper, gossip magazines and snacks with broadcasting a relaxing airy pop music. This taxi shows three times just like a humor flavoring in the crazy story. Each time is very brilliant design. And the driver said a classical word: ‘I thought it would only appear in the film.’ Just like a self-reference reflect the difference between the film world and the reality. The second time, the driver cry while Pepa crying. The last time Mambo taxi appears when they follow the Lucia. Pepa said that you would never know men, learn how to drive is much more than learn men’s psychological.
Like at the beginning Ivan ask ‘have you had to forget?’ and Pepa answer ‘As many as the women you remember.’ The whole film shows the women are weak in the emotion though they are open to love and sex. It make me feel happy and warm though this noisy story is like a soap opera.
Vittorio de Sica Bicycle Thieves
This film is directed by the Italian neo-realism director Vittorio de Sica. It is also his most famous work. The Italian neo-realism is an important movement in European film industry. It made film history like the German expressions. And then it made a significant influence on the later movement such as French new wave and British social realism. It was raised after the WWII, and it was a response to the society. It aims at breaking the conventions of the traditional Italian film and reflecting the reality in the nation. Many people were suffering from the unemployment, shortage of housing poverty and deprivation. These issues are represented very obviously in this film.
The film was revised from a novel. There is no child in the novel. I think the son is added by the director to heighten the atmosphere and evoke compassion and the emotional resonance.
It tells a story about a poor father wants to find a job in Roma. But he needs a bike to support his working. Then the bike gets stolen. The father and his son walking around Roma try to find the bike. In the end, they disappear in the crowd with helpless. The plot is filled with several helpless scenes to show the people’s really mentality situation in that special time period.
The opening scene is located in the labor exchange. So many people compete for job vacancies. And the job Antonio gets is posting. In that time, people were suffering the much unemployment and deprivation because the consumption of the war. Not only the food, but also the water was running out. Next scene is Antonio finding his wife Maria when she is queuing to get water for the whole family. These social determined characters are the lower class; and they do not have enough money to afford bike even food. It has a obvious comparison when Antonio take Bruno to the restaurant. Bruno and the rich family’s child look at each other. As least, I can see the child look down at Bruno.
The stolen scene is a good design. When the young wife sees the fortune teller to prospect the new life, Antonio just tells the playing boy to take care his bike instead locking. I think this is the time the bike may be stolen. But I was wrong; the bike is stolen very straightly later. The director focused on the feeling of Antonio rather than the stealing. The director makes suspense which let audience to follow the plot. This is closer to the Hollywood style (linear progression and continuity editing) though it is Italian. To see a fortune at that time was forced by the hard and difficult life. People need some intimation and encourage to building their confidence and belief. Most of them are women which have a lower position than the men.
At the first time, Antonio thinks this is a ridiculous and absurd thing. Because the new job has already gave him motivation. But after looking for the bike without any result, he loses heart and only gets a useless word from the fortune teller. ‘If you cannot find today, you will not find it forever.’
Antonio finds the deal between the thief and the old man. He follows the old man into a church. The meeting in the church is hold by the rich people. The same as to pay for the fortune teller, people just experienced a terrible war. They need the spiritual restoration.
The police show many times in the film. First time is the police station, the officer just give Antonio a reference number and let Antonio to find by himself. A bike lost is just a small thing in their eye. I feel resonance at this time, because I suffer the same thing when I am new in UK when I lost money. The second is in the bicycle market, Antonio want to see the number of the painted bike. The last time is to search the thief’s house. All the police’s action is useless but justice. It is sure that there is no evidence. Police’s role is not very clear at the post-war time.
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In the end, Antonio tries to steal a bike but be caught soon in front of his son unfortunately. The owner forgive him because saw Bruno crying and shouting his father. It is so impressive. This is a thief behavior, but I use the word ‘unfortunately’ to represent the sympathy. In my opinion, Bruno crying not for his father stealing, but for nobody helps and understands them. One of the most important reasons of this film got big success is its emotional resonance.
There is something worth attention. One is the little son is only one worker who has income before his father gets the job. At the post-war reconstruction time, I can know that most children like the son Bruno were employed. Children were forced to working on the street or begging for money. And the poster is an advertisement of the American movies, Gilda (Rita Hayworth). The Hollywood movies are flooded to Italy after the war. People may admire the life in America.
There are some features of neo-realism in this film. The film is location shooting. One reason is this is the way to represent the reality and next is: after the WWII, the directors do not have enough money to build studio. But this film is expensive result as the massive people were all paid.
Both the father and the son are non-professional actors. I heard that the father is an unemployed in Italy. The director likes his gloomy expression and atheistic appearance. But helpless, when he finished his acting in this film, he still unemployed.
All in all, this film represents the Italian social reality and personal emotion in a very brilliant way. So it is praised till now. As it evokes my resonance, I love it very much.
Gomorrah is directed by Matteo Garrone and revised from Roberto Saviano’s novel.
This is a classical Italian neo-realism crime film. It is different with the traditional crime film such as the famous Italian American gangsters God Father. It is more truth than God father. Also, it is not the postmodern gangsters for example Pulp fiction. It describes a heavier theme than Pulp Fiction. I saw some comment on this brilliant work from Italian audience themselves. They are proud of this work. I think maybe it represent a classical spiritual symbol on that contemporary society.
The title refers to the Bible story about Sodom and Gomorrah. And camorra also means an Italian mafia organization in Naples which is the oldest city in Italy. It destroyed and corrupted all levels and orders of the normal society. From the camera’s eye, the circumstance of their living place is dirty. People who living there must chose a group seems have already become a default system. No one save there. Crime, drugs, fighting and shooting happens on the street every day. The setting here is like an ‘urban nightmare’. You will never know when you die. However, people have already used to face these issues. Toto is only a common teenager. But the connection with the mafia leads him to the drug trfficking life. In one scene, Toto ask ‘how can I get working with you?’ show his desire to join this dangerous system and to represent his brave.
From the young boys to the old man wants to take charge but failed because they live under the violence controlled system. That also refer to machismo which is a world constructed by the men and masculinity. They advocate the violence. The gangsters take crime as an ambitious signs which worth showing off. This idea is reflected on the two boys. Ciro and Marco always dream to own the world. They are crazy about violence. They shout ‘I the best and the world is us’ in the obsolete building like they are the scarface. The poster use them shooting and plating with guns in the river. They are screaming and exciting when they make trouble and crime.
In the film, I only saw the police for a few times. I was wondering that there is no law or police to manage the crime. I know it is just a film which will be faded and blurred the function of the police and regulations in the mainstream society. Then the true gomorrah must be more dark then the film describing.
Gaetano is just an accounting of the mafia. He just wants peaceful life and do not want to be involved in the war. Because be afraid of shooting by other who want his money, he need to wear body armor.
Pasquale has troubles only for having a lecture for the Chinese textile factory. There is an interesting scene that the Chinese boss let him seat in the trunk. I was confused at the first time why he needs to do this. Then I know it is necessary to avoid other people seeing and to protect Pasquale.
They young man Roberto finds out the boss instigate the teenagers to fill the land illegally. He gave up and follows the justice.
These three are more mature than the three young boys. The representations of them are more helpless because the pressure they build themselves and the ethical and mental burden. They are struggle and hesitate in their heart about the good and bad, punishment and retribution. These emotion and the trivial make them rounded.
Dialogue is not so important. The emotion is much more significant.
A skill was being used in the film to highlight the character’s emotion. The scene the Chinese boss asks Pasquale to give lessons to his factory. The boss’s face is blurred all the time while Pasquale’s expressions are recorded with details.
It inspired by Italian neo-realism. Location shooting is obvious. It is a documentary shooting to describe five stories about different people. There is no main character. Each of the five stories has its own major characters and detailed with their psychological activities. The whole gathering makes a loose and episodic plot. The film likes an excerpt from the life of Gomorrah. The life there still continuing and the film ended with an open ending.
The free camera movement seems handhold. The indoor scenes are all dark with no artificial light. Sometimes we cannot see the character’s face very clearly without the three points light. And outdoor, they use the natural sunlight instead of the artificial ones.
Actually, at the first 30minutes or more, I do not know what the director want to say. Without any beautiful view, so many characters and shooting all the time make me confused. Much more is the trivial things. But in the end, audience will sigh for the life. Gomorrah is a symbol and metaphor.
Style / mise-en-scene
The gangster as (doomed) hero
Gangs and gangsters inside and outside (mainstream) society; crime and the law
Codes of behaviour: Good vs evil, loyalty, betrayal, ambition; punishment and retribution …
Godard Pierrot Le Fou
All About My Mother – Pedro Almodovar 1999 Spain
All About Eve – Joseph L. Mankiewicz 1950 USA
Broken Embraces – Almodovar 2009 Spain
A Streetcar Named Desire – Tennessee Williams
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