Any synopsis of Volver creates the vision of a melodramatic multi-seasoned telenovela as Almodóvar’s interwoven fantasy with reality tale of mothers and daughters unfolds.

Having lost her mother in a fire years earlier, Raimunda (Penelope Cruz – Vanilla Sky, Parallel Mothers) is concerned about the mental state of Tía Paula, the aunt who raised her. Having recently visited her home village, it’s there Tía Paula claimed Irene (Carmen Maura – Oh Carmela! Cuernavaca), Raimunda’s dead mother, is living with her. But all is forgotten a few days later when daughter Paula (Yohana Cobo – Vidas pequeñas, 75 días) confesses she has murdered her unemployed father Paco, who tried to rape her whilst drunk.

That’s the first 20 or so minutes accounted for! In a true-to-form Almodóvar (Parallel Mothers, Talk to Her), Volver is a melodramatic comedic delight as superstitions, gossip, ghosts and murder seemingly conspire against Raimunda to make a success of a simple life as she hides a dead body and defrauds her neighbour’s restaurant business. With a lightness of touch and perfect timing (particularly from Cruz), Volver may push the boundaries of believability but it has a charm all of its own.

Nominated for best actress Oscar in 2007.

Rating: 73%

‘Parallel Mothers’

An engrossing, restrained drama from Pedro Almodóvar (The Skin I Live In, Talk to Her), two single women give birth in the same hospital on the same day.

Looking to redress injustice from the early years of the Spanish Civil War involving her family and the village of her birth, successful photographer Janis (Penelope Cruz – Nine, Volver) becomes involved with married anthropologist, Arturo (Israel Elejalde – Love Above All Things, Amador). An unexpected pregnancy and a shared hospital maternity room with teenage Ana (Milena Smit – Libélulas, Cross the Line) upend Janis’ life in many different ways.

A nuanced melodrama, Parallel Mothers is quietly tender, an intimate exploration of love and motherhood.

Nominated for 2 Oscars in 2022 – best actress (Cruz) and soundtrack (Alberto Iglesias).

Rating: 72%

‘Law of Desire’

Arguably his international breakthrough film, Law of Desire set writer/director Pedro Almodóvar on a 15 year journey of sexually risque, funny yet sublimely passionate melodramas and introduced to the world a (young) Antonio Banderas.

Obsessed by successful gay filmmaker Pablo Quintero (Eusebio Poncela – Martín (Hache), Matador), the violently jealous Banderas looks to marginalise the absent Juan, Quintero’s young lover. The filmmaker is high on a stream of successes: his latest is to be loosely based on the life of his transsexual sister, Tina (Carmen Maura – Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Volver). As Pablo (who himself has an insatiable, often selfish, sexual appetite) fights off increasingly disturbing demands from Banderas, Tina herself has problems with men. It’s these struggles that are the emotional core of the film.

Anarchic and extreme, Law of Desire builds to a crushing idiosyncratic finale. Add Almodóvar’s love of excess in colour and a subterranean, camp sense of humour and Law of Desire ultimately runs away with itself. It’s silly and a complete mess involving murder and complete mayhem. Entertaining silliness. But still a mess.

Rating: 52%

‘Talk To Her’

One of Pedro Almodovar’s biggest critical successes (including the Oscar for best original script), Talk to Her is a sublime exploration of obsession, loneliness, friendship.

Two men become friends at a hospital as they each care for the woman of their hearts, both comatose. A nurse, the lonely and virginal Benigno (Javier Cámara – Truman, Bad Education) is infatuated by a patient in his care, a young female dancer. He spends virtually all his time with her. A journalist, Marco (Darío Grandinetti – Wild Tales, Rojo) finds himself unhappily tied to female matador, Lydia (Rosario Flores – Contra el viento, Entreacte), gored at a recent bullfight. As events unfold, so the men’s friendship is tested as Benigno’s obsession grows.

An odd yet deeply moving and controlled narrative with only the occasional Almodovar trait of overwrought melodrama (check out the film within the film of Shrinking Lover), Talk to Her is surprisingly quiet and gentle interlaced with occasional humour, a great deal of intrigue, a beautiful soundtrack – and Pina Bausch!

Nominated for 2 Oscars in 2003 including best director, won 1 for best original script.

Rating: 82%

‘High Heels’

Even by Almodovar’s standards, High Heels is an intense comedic melodrama but one that, with a murder mystery subplot, is not overly successful.

With his fascination in the theme of mothers and relationships between their adult children, the writer/director explores the return of torchsong diva Becky del Páramo (Marisa Paredes – The Skin I Live In, All About My Mother) to Madrid after spending the last 15 years in Mexico. Her married daughter Rebeca (Victoria Abril – Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, Kika) anxiously awaits her return. Their reunion is made the more difficult as Rebeca has married an ex-lover of Becky’s. If that’s not difficult enough, Manuel is found dead with both women suspected of his murder.

Visually splendid (Rebeca is always dressed from head to toe in Chanel), Almodovar’s sharp wit is diluted with a somewhat misplaced murder investigation derailing the narrative.

Rating: 50%

‘Bad Education’

Sexual abuse and the Catholic Church during the Franco era – a subject treated with his usual mix of irreverence and seriousness by writer/director Pedro Almodóvar (Talk To Her, Julieta).

Two teenage boys find each other in 1960s Spain – as does the predatorial Padre Manolo (Daniel Giménez Cacho – Zama, Cronos). Separated, years later Enrique (Fele Martinez), now a successful film producer, is approached by wannabe actor, Ángel (Gael García Bernal – The Motorcyle Diaries, The Kindergarten Teacher), with a script of two boys abused at a Catholic school in the 1960s…

Almodóvar trademarks are present throughout – bright colour, up-close camera angles, sexuality and gender fluidity – in this multi-layered melodrama, a melodrama that is less manic, more measured than his films from the 1980s and ’90s (Bad Education followed All About My Mother and Talk To Her). The result is a quiet (relatively speaking) yet barbed, controlled eccentricity weaving Ángel’s script with the ‘real’ of the everyday.

Bad Education opened the 2004 Cannes Film Festival – the first Spanish film to do so.

Rating: 66%

‘The Skin I Live In’

Darker than the usual Almodovar (High Heels, Julieta), The Skin I Live In is a psychological thriller as acclaimed plastic surgeon Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas – Pain & Glory, The Laundromat) secretly develops a synthetic skin.

In memory of a wife seriously burned in a car accident, Ledgard uses Vera (Elena Anaya – Talk To Her, Wonder Woman) as his human guinea-pig at a fully-equipped home clinic. But, a prisoner, not all is as it seems. Weaving a back story of the death of his wife and suicide of daughter, Norma (Blanca Suárez – TV’s The Boat, The Boarding School) several years later, The Skin I Live In slowly evolves into a narrative of obsession, sexual tension and revenge.

Surprisingly restrained, as clinical and sterile as the surgeon’s operating theatre, Almodovar’s adaptation of the novel Mygale by Thierry Jonquet would benefit from a little more passion: it’s Vera’s story, revealed as the narrative develops, that highlights the coldness of life at the Ledgard home. Yet it remains stylish, twisted and intriguing.

Rating: 71%

‘Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown’

Interconnected and overlapping stories abound as television actress Pepa (Carmen Maura – Volver, The Women on the 6th Floor) tries to get to the bottom of why long-term (married) lover Ivan (Fernando Guillén – Otros días vendrán, Don Juan en los infiernos) has jilted her.

In true early Almodovar (Kika, High Heels) style, the chaotic hysteria of the plot grows and grows with characters coming and going. Naive best-friend Candela (Maria Barranco – Infidelity, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!) finds herself in hiding from the police, Ivan’s son Antonio Banderas (Pain & Glory, The Mask of Zorro) turns up looking to rent the penthouse apartment – and that jug of drugged gazpacho is passed around to all and sundry.

With breathless abound, the farcical nature of the narrative is exhausting. Singularly paced, immense, irreverent fun to start with begins to flag as the gaudiness wears thin.

Nominated for the 1989 Oscar for best foreign language film.

Rating: 54%

‘All About My Mother’

An emotional honesty pervades Almodóvar’s comedic melodramas. But whereas earlier works flirt garishly with kitsch and flamboyance, All About My Mother is a significantly more nuanced and controlled work. That’s not to say the award-winning director (Talk to Her, Volver) has dispensed with his camp, stylised approach.

With the tragic death of her son on his 17th birthday, Manuela (Cecilia Roth – Martin, Pain & Glory) leaves Madrid to find the boy’s father in her native Barcelona. She reunites with an old friend, Agrado (Antonia San Juan – The Platform, The Summer Side), an outspoken transgender sex worker and finds work as a personal assistant to actress Huma Rojo (Marisa Paredes – The Skin I Live In, The Devil’s Backbone). Manuela also befriends a young nun, Hermana (Penelope Cruz – Volver, Vanilla Sky) who turns out to be pregnant by Lola, the transgender father of her own son.

A homage to women, female actresses (All About Eve and A Streetcar Named Desire are writ large throughout) and the Golden Age of Hollywood, All About My Mother is a gloriously complex yet heartwarming narrative as Manuela, by looking for Lola, is searching for closure.

Winner of the 2000 Oscar for best foreign language film.

Rating: 78%

‘Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!’

Dodgy subverted sexual politics are at play in Pedro Almodovar’s 1989 feature.

Released from a mental home, the manipulative yet handsome Ricky (Antonio Banderas – The Skin I Live In, The Mask of Zorro) kidnaps former porn star now serious actress, Marina (Victoria Abril – Kika, Amantes). Holding her hostage in her own Madrid apartment, Ricky’s objective is to make Marina fall in love with him.

Lots of near-miss farce – particularly with sister Lola (Loles León – Talk To Her, El mundo entero) – pepper the narrative as the two come to understand each other and their lives living on the margins. With its threatening undercurrent, Almodavar (Talk To Her, The Skin I Live In) instead chooses to twist its dark humour creating a colourful, anarchic serious rom-com. Go figure!

Rating: 60%