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Never a prophet in his own land?

Perhaps Almodóvar is finally resigned to his status as Spain's overlooked genius.


Almodóvar has already tasted Oscar success

Almodóvar: Not always a winner. Photo by Bambo.

First, the Goyas. He was in the running for best original screenplay, but didn’t make it. More importantly for many, Pedro Almodóvar returned on February 14 to Spain’s top movie awards ceremony after a five-year absence to hand Daniel Monzón the best film prize for Celda 211. His presence was highly symbolic, given that Broken Embraces had been overlooked for Spain’s top film prize, as had he for best director. The film was nominated in five categories, among them best screenplay; in the end it won best soundtrack. This year, the story is that the director and the Academy have made their peace, even if Almodóvar rejected a very public plea from the organization’s president, Alex de la Iglesia, to return to renew his membership after standing down in 2005.

Now the Oscars. Readers might remember the brouhaha that surrounded the Spanish Film Academy’s decision in September not to include Broken Embraces among three candidates, one of which would go forward as Spain’s contender for best foreign language film at the 82nd Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles on March 7. That honour went to fellow-Oscar winner Fernando Trueba, for his The Dancer and the Thief, which then failed to make it onto the Academy Awards committee’s shortlist of five.

The Spanish Film Academy’s decision outraged fans of the 60-year-old director and surprised film critics at home and abroad. Broken Embraces was a box-office smash at home and certainly the planet’s most-talked about Spanish film of the year, wowing the European and US media, and opening Cannes. Once again, it seemed Pedro’s long-standing grievance that he is unappreciated by the establishment at home had been confirmed. Or had it?

All about my Oscar

The theory is that the Spanish Film Academy has got it in for Pedro. And it’s true that the director’s relationship with the institution over the years has not been easy. Admittedly, five of his films have been submitted for the Oscars, with Women on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown and All About My Mother receiving nominations, the latter winning the big prize. But when he is not nominated, as in 2002 (although of course that year saw Talk to Her carry off an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay), or as happened this time round, the domestic and international media cooked up a storm in a popcorn tub, with headlines full of snubs, slaps in the face, and colourful insults.

Not that Almodóvar hasn’t contributed to the controversy — and benefitted from the associated publicity. At the press conference held to celebrate his Oscar win for Talk to Her, in 2003, he was applauded by journalists as he took the stage alongside the film’s leading actors, Geraldine Chaplin and Javier Camera. He then had his revenge: “The Spanish academy was wrong, time has shown this; because Hollywood has decided that the film was worth two top nominations.”

After Bad Education lost out to The Sea Inside in 2005 (which went on to win the Oscar), and also failed to garner anything at Spain’s Goyas, Almodóvar and his producer brother Agustín resigned from the Spanish Film Academy, complaining about the voting system.

The pair insisted their decision was not based on having been passed over. They disagreed with procedures introduced two years before whereby voting in the first selection round was limited to members of the different categories, i.e., screenplay writers could only vote for screenplay writers, etc. In the second round, voting for the different categories was open to all.

Doing its bit to fan the flames, right-wing daily El Mundo chipped in with: “It is an undeniable fact that the Spanish academy has no sympathy toward Almodóvar.”

It is true that there was a period when every time he won an award abroad (and he’s certainly won plenty: aside from his Oscars, he’s harvested US Golden Globes, British Baftas, French Cesars, and Italian Donatellos,), he would use the occasion to highlight how unloved he felt in Spain.

“It’s clear that I am being granted the recognition and affection abroad that I was denied at home,” Almodóvar said after taking home the coveted statuette for All About My Mother in 1999.

Of course, since then, Almodóvar has won plenty of prizes at home. But here’s the clincher. In 2006, the Academy went back to its old voting system whereby in both rounds, voting for each category was open to all members.

So, either the Spanish Film Academy’s members all hate Pedro so much that they can’t resist the chance to cold-shoulder him, even if it means no Oscars for Spain, or they didn’t believe that Broken Embraces had what it takes to seduce Hollywood’s great and good. Or they just didn’t rate it. Maybe they thought the Academy had had enough post-modern soap opera, having failed to put the equally raved-about Volver on any shortlist in 2006.

Smouldering silence

This time round nobody knows what Almodóvar thinks about having been left out of the Oscars. He has kept silent about the Spanish Film Academy’s decision, saying not a word about it. His clout is such that no journalist has had the courage to raise the matter in the few interviews he has given since last September.

Maybe he’s become resigned to his status as Spain’s overlooked genius, realising that the story has served its purpose. Let’s hope so. As for the prestige issues, he can take consolation from the fact that many of Hollywood’s greatest actors and directors have never won an Oscar. He’s copped two, and will doubtless stick another on his mantelpiece before he’s out. He can also comfort himself in the knowledge that according to the Hollywood Reporter, he’s among the top 100 most successful filmmakers around today.

As for the Spanish Film Academy, well, they got it right when they chose The Sea Inside over Bad Education, and wrong with Talk to Her. As with that last film, if Hollywood had thought so much of Broken Embraces, it could always have chosen the movie for another category than Best Foreign Film. But they didn’t, and he showed up at the Goya. So with that, perhaps we can now all move on.

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Published: Feb 15 2010
Category: Culture, Films
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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