Icons of the Century

Spaniard Pedro Almodovar films from the gut, directly, about large issues: unrequited passion, maternal love. But his feminist, radically tolerant cinema could only flower in a democracy.

His debut feature, the punk-pop “Pepi, Luci, Bom” (1979), celebrated — rather than the post-Franco freedom of speech — the freedom of every type of desire from every sexual orientation. He explodes Spanish cliches: In “Matador” (1986), death is no fixation, it’s mental Viagra.

Making painterly, postmodern screwball dramas and arthouse mellers, he can re-acknowledge Spain’s origins: from its Catholicism (“Bad Education,” 2004) to its resilient rural ways (“Volver,” 2006). He’s gone beyond Spanish filmmaker to universal maestro of compassion.

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