Whether it’s in his depiction of pain and loss in All About My Mother, the extremes of human passion in The Skin I Live In or sexual abuse in Bad Education, Almodóvar is not only celebrated for constantly breaking trends and subverting societal norms, but also idolised for his courageous determination in encouraging freedom in post-Franco era Spain, particularly in his representation of sexuality and strong female figures.
It’s not all seriousness, however, as many of Almodóvar’s most successful films strike a perfect balance between drama and comedy, with the director using outlandish characters (lesbian divas, pregnant nuns and transgendered playboys to name a few), bright colours and madcap, surrealist narratives to infuse much-needed laughs into the dark and create his own trademark style that makes his films instantly recognisable.
That trademark style has carried Almodóvar well. He’s amassed a collection of awards that would make any fellow director envious, a barrage of muses (from Penélope Cruz to Antonio Banderas) that have reaped massive successes from his direction and continually sees his films in competition at the Cannes Film Festival after forming a strong relationship with Thierry Frémaux, the festival’s director.
There are a few films that represent this world-treasured director’s decades-spanning career in the best possible way, and all six are listed in depth below. For anyone not familiar with Almodóvar (heaven only knows why), then watching one of the films listed below should be enough to lure you into his colourful, yet harsh worlds and make you want to find out all there is to know about this filmmaking icon.
6. Matador (1986)
Famous matador Diego Montes (Nacho Martinez) is forced into early retirement after being savagely attacked by a bull. Left cold and desperate for a fix (masturbating to smut and having sex with countless women isn’t fulfilling enough), Diego becomes a murderer. Things take a turn for the worse when he meets his match in Maria (Assumpta Serna) and a student matador (Antonio Banderas) starts to mirror his path too closely.
The darker side of human sexuality is the main focus in Matador, as characters constantly push and pull against societal boundaries. It’s perhaps Almodóvar’s least mainstream film, but one that perfectly highlights the joy some people find in excess, whether it’s through sex, murder, rape or bullfighting.
Martinez delivers a suitably edgy performance as Diego, but it’s Banderas as the innocent, delusional student matador who makes the real impression, particularly during a scene that has him attempt to rape and kill Diego’s girlfriend, only to ejaculate within seconds and fumble in extracting the knife from his Swiss Army Knife. It’s a delirious, highly sexualised film, but very, very good all the same.