A funny thing happened on the way to La Mancha… I don’t really know what the punch line to that jokey set-up is, but I do know that the gag definitely has a lot to do with the master of rude Spanish mirth, Pedro Almodóvar. With two Academy Awards under his belt, Almodóvar is one of Spain’s most well-known and prolific directors, known for his outlandish characters, vibrant visual style, and mastery of camp, melodrama and comedy.
Ever since using his own savings to produce his first film, the wacked-out comedy Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón (Pepi, Luci, and Bom) in 1980, he has consistently churned out a new feature every two, sometimes three, years, winning international adoration and Oscars along the way. Although Almodóvar became the ultimate big-city Madrileño, both he and Cervantes’ hilarious fictional character Don Quixote (sure, groan if you skipped the assigned reading in school, but it is actually damned funny) originally hail from the sleepy Spanish region of La Mancha. Who knows whether it’s some magically funky air propelling through those windmills or some other spell, but it sure churns out some wickedly funny artistry.
Of course, Almodóvar is much more than a comedic genius and can knock any genre out of the park that he sets his mind to, but here’s a guide to Almodovar’s movies for when you are jonesing for the funnier side of ese hijo de… La Mancha.
Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón
This is the film that kicked off a filmography filled with camp, theatricality, and cultural subversions — all while making you literally LOL.
Almodóvar’s features don’t come any rough and readier than this, his first. Full of funky framing, underlit scenes, hand-lettered intertitles, and make-do wardrobes, you can still see a bright, completely unique talent pulsing out from under the occasionally unpolished filmmaking. The still fresh, outrageous humor of Pepi, Luci, Bom shows a Spain that seems barely out of the Franco-era dark ages and simultaneously light-years into the Spanish Movida era of urbane Madrid. It focuses on three rather different chicas, who form an unexpected bond over male vengeance, pop music, advertising, and, um, let’s just say a wellspring of naughtiness. Known for coining the slogan “Haga lo que hagas, ponte bragas.”
Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios
The sheer heights of Almodóvar’s delirious genius are on display in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Rossy de Palma’s cubist face achieving erotic ecstasy for the first time, a naughty dosing of gazpacho, oh, so many projectiles thrown from Carmen Maura’s divine Madrid terraza, and wickedly inspired women crazily but cunningly surmounting their crises together are among the jewels of the film.
The sheer heights of Almodóvar’s delirious genius are on display in this wickedly inspired film, which features women crazily but cunningly surmounting their crises together. Pepa (Carmen Maura) initiates the drama as a freshly jilted actress who faces the prospect of having to finish dubbing a film which she first embarked upon with her now ex-lover. Meta-drama ensues in the recording studio, at home, and with wacked-out woman after woman who happens to walk into the craziness. Almodóvar mastered ensemble like it’s never been done since.
A gimme for you Netflix streamers out there, Atame! is one long-running joke that is funny and creepy at once, and you can’t quite tell if one feeling outweighs the other. Laugh or cry, you’ll be tied to the screen.
A deliciously young Antonio Banderas plays a guy who is freshly released from an insane asylum on his 18th birthday. Since he’s of age, he decides his first order of business is getting a wife, pronto. His ideal woman has been clear to him since his girly-mag-filled days in the asylum: a porno starlet (played by Victoria Abril.) She’s filming her first “legit” movie — in other words, a hilariously shlocky exploitation that can just barely be considered a cut above the hardcore. At any rate, Banderas kidnaps the actress, tying her up to keep her housebound, which becomes an apt joke, or metaphor, for the domestic mess some call marriage.
With this film, Almodóvar gives new meaning to the phrase “screwball comedy” — it’s an antic, gleefully fashion-conscious bedroom farce.
The title character may be sexy makeup artist Kika (Veronica Forque), but the role at the heart of the film is Andrea Caracortada (Victoria Abril), an intrepid reporter and news host on a lurid, Primer Impacto-style TV show. Scoping out stories and wearing a video camera on her helmet (before Go Pros existed!), Caracortada is a frenetic, Spanish Modern Hildy Johnson-style character in a film that satirizes the unquenchable sensationalism of contemporary media. With Jean-Paul Gaultier’s amazing get-ups for Caracortada and an elaborate set design, the film is a visually stunning madcap send-up of modern times.
Los amantes pasajeros
It’s impossible not to be excited when you hear that 70’s disco beat pulsing through the film’s title. Fasten your seatbelts for Almodóvar’s goofiest comedy yet.
The film feels like an homage to the spoof film Airplane, a period yuckfest which parodied the then-popular 1970s disaster genre film. But a spoof of a spoof? Well, Almodóvar starts with the inspiration but then jacks the comedic factor up even more, spicing it up in his own way with lots of sex and drug jokes. Maybe it’s Almodóvar’s nostalgia kicking in as someone who was around when Quaaludes were actually in circulation, but the film centers around a plane full of passengers who the crew decides to drug when the aircraft runs into mechanical trouble. Mile high club, anyone?