All About His Mother: Pedro Almodóvar Bares His Heart in Lyon

Spanish master explains the crucial creative influence of his mother on his films

LYON – Accepting the sixth Lumière Award at Lyon’s Lumiére Festival in France, Pedro Almodóvar spoke with his heart, as Quentin Tarantino had a year before, about what really drives his filmmaking career.

Reading his acceptance speech, translated by Juliette Binoche, he was accompanied on stage brother Agustín, his producer of nearly 30 years standing, and emblematic actresses from his films: Marisa Paredes (“High Heels,” “The Flower of My Secret”), Elena Anaya (“The Skin I Live In”) and Rossy de Palma (“Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”).

In the audience were, Keanu Reeves and director John McTiernan, Michael Cimino, Paolo Sorrentino (“The Great Beauty”), Berenice Bejo (“The Artist”), Isabella Rossellini, Vanessa Paradis, Gaspard Ulliel (“Saint Laurent”), Italy’s Valeria Golino, Jaime Rosales, and, among industry figures Pathé’s Jerome Seydoux, Wild Bunch’s Vincent Maraval, Pierre Ange Le Pogam, Samuel Haddida plus Sony Pictures Classics’ Michael Barker.

“I was born in the ’50s, a good time for cinema, but I fear a terrible time for Spain. Fiction for me was the world of my home’s patio, the neighbors, my sisters, all that happened in and outside the big screen of the open-air cinema, a wall, a fetish object. My mother was always the territory where everything happened,” Almodóvar said.

In his films, he continued, “I think I used the colors of my childhood, Technicolor, brilliant explosive colors that my passion for color is my mother’s reply to so many years of mourning, blackness.”

Earlier, in most probably the other highlight of the award ceremony, Canadian director-actor Xavier Dolan, French actors Tahar Ramin (“A Prophet”) and Guillaume Gallienne read a text written by Almódovar describing his reaction to his mother’s death, “My Mother’s Last Dream,” set on a sunny day, Almodóvar’s first without his mother. “I’m called Pedro Almodóvar Caballero. Don’t forget the second name,” the article ends.

“It’s a text I can’t think of without crying,” Almodóvar admitted Friday on stage in Lyon.

Many of Almodóvar’s films have performed better in France than Spain. Running two hours, hosted by Thierry Fremaux, the Lumière Award ceremony was also as sustained homage to Almodovar’s impact on Spain, and a Spanish culture that connects more readily with sentiment, often by song.

Two Hollywood figures that Almodóvar had helped to stardom, Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz, both spoke via videos.

“I thank you for breaking the restrictions of the Spanish cinema in the ’80s,” said Banderas, from the set of “Altamira” in Northern Spain.

“You’re so special to me, you’re so generous in your mind and heart. I’m so lucky to have you in my life,” added Cruz.

“Spain has changed rapidly, but Pedro has helped that change,”  Paredes said.

Director-actress Agnés Jaoui sang – “Piensa en mí,” featured in “High Heels”; France’s Camelia Jordana delivered a rendition of “Cucurrucucú Paloma,” performed so memorably by Caetano Veloso in “Talk to Her”; Young Spanish flamenco star Miguel Póveda sang three songs, including “Volver”; Lumière – and Cannes – director Thierry Fremaux introduced early Lumière films shot in Spain.

“There are great Spanish films before, ‘The Executioner,’ ‘Poachers,’ but you hit Spanish cinema like a cyclone, a tornado,” said Bertrand Tavernier.

“I’m normally funny, entertaining, like a striptease artist, but I’m too bowled over,” said Almodóvar. But he did think of one joke. Almodóvar has come very close to winning the Palme d’Or with “Volver.” “For me, Thierry,” Almodóvar said, brandishing the Lumière Award, “this is my Palme d’Or.”

FULL TEXT OF PEDRO ALMODOVAR’S LUMIÈRE AWARD ACCEPTANCE SPEECH

I was born in the ’50s, a good time for cinema, but I fear a terrible time for Spain. If I’d been born in America, maybe Spielberg would have phoned me and given me a Super 8 camera to play with. But in Spain after the Civil War, I only had my own life and my family’s to initiate myself in the world of fiction. Fiction for me was the world of my home’s patio, the neighbors, my sisters taking lessons in the coolness with their friends, the cats, the gypsies, the flamenco-singers at the August fair, the twist, hanging and skinning a still bloody rabbit, my mother talking to her neighbors in the street door in the coolness of the long summer nights, talking about stories of suicides, incest, or singing all together. Fiction was for me all that happened in and outside the big screen of the open-air cinema, a wall, a fetish object. Behind the screen, the guys relived ourselves: Myth and physiology. I didn’t know it, but I was learning very early the essential. My mother was always the territory where everything happened. In 1987, I asked her to take a cameo role in “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.” We were in the dressing room where the costume designer had chosen some dresses for her. I was attending to something else. Suddenly, I heard indirectly my mother day to the costume designer: “I don’t want black dresses, give me something brighter.” And she went on to explain her long relationship with black, something I hadn’t heard before. When she was pregnant with me, she had dressed in black, because she was in mourning. From the age of 3, she had backed one morning with another. The first 30 years of her life, she dressed exclusively in black, and she didn’t want to use that color ever again. I didn’t imagine my mother was forced to wear black when she bore me. Frequently, people have asked about the use of color in my films. I think I used the colors of my childhood, Technicolor, brilliant explosive colors that were very difficult to achieve in ’80s laboratories. After losing my mother, I began to think about the origin of my films’ colors. I’d like to think that my passion for color is my mother’s reply to so many years of mourning, blackness. Although she was dressed in black when she bore me, in her she was gestating her vengeance towards the dark monochromes obliged by tradition. I was her vengeance, and I hope I’ve been good enough. For 35 years, I’ve been trying with all my heart.

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