PrintE-mail Written by Luke Channell

Following the release of Pedro Almodóvar's latest critical success Julieta, StudioCanal are releasing a boxset of six newly restored films from the Spanish maestro's formative years. While his later films are decidedly more restrained and mature, these earlier works are an intriguing insight into Almodóvar at his most audacious and mischievous.

These films introduce many motifs and themes which Almodóvar has continued to explore throughout his career including strong female characters, melodramatic plots, fluid sexuality, and a vibrant, gaudy aesthetic. However, these earlier works implement a wilder, free-wheeling, subversive approach which typified the sense of sexual and political freedom of their post-Franco Spanish context.

Originally rejected by Cannes film festival for its alleged blasphemous treatment of Catholicism, Dark Habits (1983) is one of Almodóvar's earliest films as well as one of his most controversial. It follows nightclub singer Yolanda (Cristina Sanchez Pascual) who is battling an addiction to drugs. She finds refuge in a nunnery only to find the eccentric nuns who live within the convent are just as crazed and unstable as she is. It's hardly subtle in its criticism of the Catholic Church’s influence on contemporary Spanish culture but it does ask some important questions on the difficulty of seeking redemption in an increasingly debauched world.

Almodóvar lightens things up in What Have I Done to Deserve This?, a darkly humorous, farcical delight which pays homage to Italian neo-realism while also featuring a child with telekinetic powers! The action revolves around the tumultuous family life of overworked housewife Gloria (Carmen Maura) as she attempts to keep her idiosyncratic family in check. It's a deliciously weird ride that highlights Almodóvar's affinity with strong female characters and their plights.

Law of Desire (1987) marks a departure of tone for Almodóvar - it's a thriller and his first overtly gay film. Focusing on homosexual film director Pablo Quintero (Eusebio Poncela) and the dangerous love triangle he finds himself in, Law of Desire is a gripping study of the potentially devastating effects of unrequited love. An effectively twisty plot and a memorably tragic and touching conclusion evidences Almodóvar's evolving versatility.

The most acclaimed film in this collection, and the one that earned Almodóvar his first Academy nomination, is comedic drama Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988). It's clear to see why it's Almodóvar's most celebrated in this boxset - it has the shortest running time of the six films but achieves the most in terms of characterisation, incisiveness and sheer entertainment. It's a breakneck romp which sees actress Pepa (Carmen Maura) in pieces after a break-up with her latest lover. Pepa plans to commit suicide via some spiked gazpacho until her best friend Candela (María Barranco) arrives with news that her ex-boyfriend is part of a Shiite terrorist cell. Consequently, a crazy set of events are put into motion. It's a real roller-coaster ride with eye-catching set design, a franticly engaging story and an abundance of absurd laughs; this is definitely one of Almodóvar's most accomplished works to date.

Kika (1993) represents the low-point in this boxset. The story revolves around Kika (Veronica Forqué) a young, naïve make-up artist who is dating a photographer named Ramon (Àlex Casanovas) while also sleeping with his father Nicholas (Peter Coyote). Kika's many disparate parts never quite piece together and it doesn’t have the likeability of his previous works as well as having surprisingly little to say. The worst element of Kika is the extremely misjudged rape of the titular character which is filmed in a comic, playful manner and tarnishes the rest of the film.

The last film in this set, The Flower of My Secret (1995), is a return to form for Almodóvar and reflects his growing maturity as a film-maker. The film follows Leo Macias (Marisa Paredes), a writer who pens popular romance novels under the pseudonym of Amanda Gris. However, she is discontented with her life, and her husband, who works as a military officer in both Brussels and Bosnia, is becoming distant physically and emotionally. As a result, Leo starts to explore darker themes in her writing and begins to re-evaluate her life. Although slight, The Flower of My Secret manages to be affecting enough, offering a perceptive look at how the everyday issues in life slowly demoralise an individual and it's also filled with Almodóvar's typical visual flair.

If you're a fan of Almodóvar's more contemporary films and want to see his most unpredictable and untamed work then you will not be disappointed by this new collection which is accompanied by a bunch of exclusive cast and crew interviews and introductions.


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