Pedro Almodóvar sur le tournage de "La piel que habito", en 2010.
Pedro Almodóvar sur le tournage de "La piel que habito", en 2010. © AFP  /  MIGUEL RIOPA

2017 Cannes Film Festival: discovering Pedro Almodóvar in music

Flamenco, the music of Senegal or Rossini's Little solemn mass… there is something for everyone in Pedro Almodóvar’s films; the Spanish director was the President of the Jury at the 2017 Cannes Festival.

Spanish film director and screenwriter Pedro Almodóvar was the President of the 70th Cannes Film Festival. Filmmaker of international repute, regularly invited as a guest during the festival, he is also a national icon of the Movida Madrileña, the Spanish cultural movement that took place to express liberation during the 1980s, after Franco's dictatorship.

Almodóvar’s films are part of those immediately recognizable cinematographic works. We can find humor without taboos and leading roles given to those whom society doesn't usually want to see.

Very surprising and diverse, the music in Almodóvar’s films reflects the stories he presents, it perfectly accompanies each scenario, but it can also be enjoyed and appreciated without pictures…

Almodóvar and Iglesias, a dynamic duo

Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone, Steven Spielberg and John Williams, Federico Fellini and Nino Rota… Today, many collaborations between filmmakers and composers are considered mythical. In the case of Pedro Almodóvar, it is with Alberto Iglesias that the magic happens.

Alberto Iglesias is a Spanish composer born in 1955, in San Sebastián, and has written music for several films. He studied piano, guitar and counterpoint, then he started taking an interest in composition and electroacoustics; Iglesias adapts to the universe of each film, changing his source of inspiration at each time.

And for good reason, Almodóvar and Iglesias share the same ideal: novelty. Escaping rules and traditions in order to always innovate. Ever since they met in 1995, and after their first collaboration for the film The Flower of My Secret, the two artists never leave each other.

Music from Spain

Almodóvar’s films take us on a journey to the heart of Spain: his women, his families, his grassroots classes, his marginal characters. Almost all of them are filmed in Madrid, and when the director leaves the Spanish capital, he does it so he can use his camera again in Barcelona (All About My Mother, 1999) or in Castilla-La Mancha (The Flower of My Secret in 1995 and Volver in 2006).

This attachment to his homeland is also expressed through the choice of music: Spanish Dance No. 5 by Spanish composer Enrique Granados in Kika, and La Rosa Del Azafrán (a zarzuela of the early 20th century) in Volver.

In Volver, we can also hear a flamenco song by Spanish singer Estrella Morente, who actually dubs Penélope Cruz singing in the film.

References and reinterpretation

Almodóvar disturbs, touches and amuses. He (almost) has no barriers, including in the choice of the soundtrack, moving in the same film from pop music to the classical repertoire.

An example is the controversial Bad Education - addressing the theme of sexual abuse - released in 2004. We can clearly hear a childish reinterpretation of Moon River, originally sung by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, a sensual performance of Quizás, Quizás, Quizás, a popular Cuban bolero, or even the Kyrie Eleison of Gioacchino Rossini’s Petite messe solennelle (Little solemn mass).

Two surprising choices, but rarely trivial. In All About My Mother, the disturbing and dark compositions by Alberto Iglesias illustrate the image of a mother losing her son. Then, all of a sudden, Ismaël Lô’s Tajabone is echoing, when the mother decides not to succumb to despair, and goes to search for her son's father.

First, the guitar accompanies the image of a long tunnel, then the harmonica and the voice of Ismaël Lô ring out on the first images of Barcelona: a view of the sky, the Sagrada Familia, and finally the vague spot where trans women sell themselves. Ismaël Lô’s Tajabone is in fact the theme of a traditional Senegalese feast, a joyful carnival during which girls dress up as men, and men dress up as women.

Women's voices

Almodóvar’s films mostly deal with stories of women: mothers, daughters, sisters, lovers… all embodied on the screen by regular faces: Carmen Maura, Victoria Abril, Penélope Cruz… There are actresses who are faithful to the filmmaker, and female voices to dub them and to reveal themselves to the public: Luz Casal in High Heels, Estrella Morente in Volver, Chavela Vargas in Kika, Concha Buika in The Skin I Live In.

Pedro Almodóvar loves warm and deep voices: just like the deep, warm,unconditional love felt by his characters towards those closest to them, as dramatic as the critical situations they have to face.