Pedro Almodóvar

Cinémathèque Française

During an early round of what has become an ongoing series of marathon conversations with French film critic Frédéric Strauss, Pedro Almodóvar remarked, in passing, “Someday, I’ll manage to make an exhibition of all the objects from my films and all the formal ideas they’ve generated.” Nearly fifteen years later, the objects, the films, and the filmmaker himself have become the subject of “¡Almodóvar Exhibition!” cocurated by Strauss and fellow film critic Matthieu Orléan, head of temporary exhibits at the Cinémathèque Française—not so much an exhibition in the artistic sense as a display or disclosure of the director’s world, where, by his own admission, his life and his films are inseparable.

And if Almodóvar’s films themselves—sixteen features in twenty-six years—can be described, individually and collectively, as a “collage” (his word), not only of images and sounds, but of twisting plots and subplots, hybrid genres, changing genders, and recurring characters, actors, motifs, and obsessions, “¡Almodóvar Exhibition!” is like a collage of collages reassembled in a hall of mirrors so as to create seemingly endless chains of reflections and echoes between fiction and reality. The space is divided into thematic sections and subdivided into nooks, crannies, and corridors leading viewers right into the sets of Almodóvar’s world. Film-still portraits are juxtaposed with Almodóvar’s family photos and those of his fictional characters, but also with clips showing his own family—mother, brother (and producer), niece—acting fictional roles in his films. The striking posters designed for his films by Juan Gatti and Ceesepe (fellow veterans of the post-Franco cultural explosion known as La Movida) are counterpointed by others they have invented for the fictional directors in Law of Desire (1987) and Bad Education (2004), as well as by the works of other artists who have inspired their patent visual quotes, from Jean Cocteau to Saul Bass to Gilbert & George.

As for the “objects,” which range from paintings, collages, and photomontages by artist friends to designer furniture and folk art, religious totems, and knickknacks, their double lives as collector’s items and film props are ingeniously revealed by thumbnail photos documenting their presence in his films, where they play in turn a double role as visual elements in his meticulously composed frames and equally fine-tuned indicators of his characters’ personalities. A similar kind of protean vision emerges on a more personal level in the objects Almodóvar himself has created over the years, from a collage (!) made during his pre-filmmaker days as a clerk at the Spanish phone company, where a routing sheet (ficha de proceso) becomes a Kafkaesque “Trial sheet” (ficha del Proceso), to the screenplay for Talk to Her (2002), transformed into a veritable artist’s book.

Ultimately, this transgressive alchemy may well be the most profound and all-encompassing of the “formal ideas” that the filmmaker was hoping to explore one day in an exhibition. But in an Almodóvarian twist, the flash-forward from the early ’90s and the encounter with Strauss to 2006 has projected his work—and us—into a digital culture that was still in the realm of science fiction fifteen years ago (cf. Kika [1993], where Victoria Abril plays the high-tech, low-scruple presenter of a voyeuristic TV news show called The Worst of the Day). Unlike the recent vogue of film exhibitions in which the idea of new technology consists in hanging plasma screens on the walls like paintings, “¡Almodóvar Exhibition!” makes the leap from the traditional museum model to that of the multimedia interface, complete with tree structure, hypertext, and interactivity. Plus an exceptionally imaginative dose of visitor-friendliness: the (virtual) presence of Almodóvar himself, who makes periodic appearances on the entire network of screens and monitors in his long-standing role as his own best commentator.

Miriam Rosen