How Pedro Almodovar and Antonio Banderas' movies shaped the 1980s

Dan Norman September 24, 2020
How Pedro Almodovar and Antonio Banderas' movies shaped the 1980s
LINCOLN CENTER, NEW YORK, NY, UNITED STATES - 2019/09/28: Actor Antonio Banderas and Director and Screenwriter Pedro Almodovar attend the Pain And Glory premiere during the 57th New York Film Festival at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center in New York City. (Photo by Ron Adar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

In this series we look at the past 100 years of cinema as seen through ten of the industry’s most fruitful actor/director partnerships. Today, let’s examine how Pedro Almodovar and Antonio Banderas’ movies shaped the 1980s.

A film set is a busy place and every movie relies on the efforts of many different people. On top of that, every time you begin work on a film you’re entering a new workplace. In those conditions, a familiar face can be a welcome sight.

Photo by Dominique Charriau/WireImage

There are plenty of reasons film-makers might reunite. There could be a mutual recognition they bring the best out of one another. It might make sense for the biggest action director to keep working with the biggest action star. It may be an order from the studio, believing the pairing is what the public wants to see.

Film history is littered with director-actor pairings that were more than the sum of their parts. It’s impossible to decide on the best but, in this series, we’ve decided to pick a pair for each of the past ten decades.

Each duo made at least three films together in that time, although some collaborations lasted longer. Put together, they tell a story of cinema during the past 100 years.

Today, we take a look at how a run of controversial comedies kick-started the careers of two international treasures in the 1980s – Pedro Almodovar and Antonio Banderas.

Pedro Almodovar and Antonio Banderas’ best movies of the 1980s

Films they made together: Labyrinth Of Passion (1982), Matador (1986), Law Of Desire (1987), Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown (1988), Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1989)

Pedro Almodovar has helped the likes of Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem and Gael Garcia Bernal become international stars. However, working with Almodovar in the late 1990s and early 2000s was a very different proposition to being in ‘un film de Almodovar’ in the 1980s.

Almodovar has always had the reputation of a provocateur, no matter the era. However, films such as All About My Mother and Talk To Her transformed him into a critical darling. These later films were praised for their control of tension and melancholy. In comparison, his earlier films had all the shocks but far less stability.

This meant an array of roles for his actors, parts that would dance right up to the line of the extreme. However, it also meant special talent was required in those roles to keep the audience on board during the more distasteful elements.

The presence of Banderas – along with other Almodovar regulars such as Cecilia Roth – allowed Almodovar to get away with more. Banderas made Almodovar’s delinquents sympathetic and even charming.

Banderas’ secret weapon

Even at this early stage of his career, Banderas plays comic confusion superbly. Many of his best roles when he got to Hollywood made good use of this quality. The sense his characters haven’t fully thought through what they are doing served him well with Almodovar.

A movie such as Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! – about a man who kidnaps a woman until she falls in love with him, which she does – works because of Banderas. Almodovar uses him as a Trojan horse.

While the audience works out whether the film is a satire of romantic comedy or a worryingly extreme but sincere romantic comedy, Banderas’ ability to play the character as a troubled innocent lets Almodovar take the character further over the line.

Almodovar and Banderas reunited at last

After going their separate ways for the whole of the 1990s and 2000s, Banderas and Almodovar reunited for The Skin I Live In (2010), a masterfully creepy film that matches any of their earlier work for its refusal to shy away from the taboo. No longer the innocent, Banderas’ long career gives him the gravitas to play Almodovar’s spin on the mad scientist.

Their most recent film, Pain And Glory, brought Banderas a Best Actor win at Cannes Film Festival. Tellingly, he played a character who shared many biographical details with Almodovar.

Given their shared history, there could be no better choice to play the director’s on-screen alter ego.

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A screenwriter and sometimes a writer of other things, living in York.