Thursday, June 12, 2008

Father, Interrupted.


When thinking about memorable fathers in cinema, one would rarely think about reaching out to Pedro Almodóvar's filmography for examples.
The Spanish auteur has made a name for himself out of so called "woman's pictures".
His ensembles consist mostly of actresses playing strong willed characters who just happen to be women.
Women who may come as deranged, neurotic actresses, ghostly mothers, comatose muses, women who were formerly men, estranged daughters, lonely writers and big hearted prostitutes among others.
The one true thing is that male appearances are constantly limited in their worlds, or at least from the screen and obvious storytelling.
In "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" the lives of three women are shattered by a man we rarely see, except in a couple of scenes where he desperately tries to talk to one of them.
His son (played by Antonio Banderas) is the epitome of the ideal heterosexual male in Almodóvar: a sweet, sensitive creature, who is as able to listen to the women around him (and detect their insanity) while having the cojones to treat them like sexual objects now and then.
It's not by chance that Banderas would play a sadomasochist kidnapper in "Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down" a few years later.
In "All About My Mother" Cecilia Roth plays a woman trying to find her dead son's father to make peace with her past.
It's not a spoiler to reveal that she finds him until the end of the film, after Pedro has indulged us with one of his most breathtakingly delicate melodramas.
To the average viewer an Almodóvar film might seem like an extreme act of feminism as seen by a homosexual man, which in most social circles would cancel the idea we have come to create about the paternal figure.
Sometimes though it does seem as if the filmmaker is trying to use men, especially fathers, as McGuffins; there would be no search without them in "All About My Mother" and the women would have nothing to have a nervous breakdown about.
But what's undeniable is that for as much as he tries to limit male appearances, they hover over every little thing he does.
Exploring the male psyche in "Bad Education" he tries to have his way by having most of the characters be either homosexuals, transvestites or both.
The story which circles around the childhood experiences of a movie director in a repressive Catholic boarding school constantly tries to deny itself of the persistent masculine power that drives them all.
Almodóvar argues that he's trying to see the female side in the male, but does he really get away with it in a film where the most influential characters are priests?
And isn't it true that priests are usually referred to as fathers?
When Freud studied the Oedipus complex he mentioned that the fear the child creates regarding his father leads him to feel castrated.
While Almodóvar takes emasculation to extreme levels, he is never able to set himself free of the phallyc influence.
This is best seen in "Volver", his love song to Italian Neorrealism (which in a way itself was a film movemement derived from the fatherless societies created by World War II).
In this film Penélope Cruz plays Raimunda, a woman who must take extreme measures to protect the life of her daughter, in the process removing memories of what her own father did to her when she was a child.
While the story concentrates on Raimunda's relationship with her mother (played by the magnificent Carmen Maura) who returns as a ghost to make ammends, the presence of this overpowering male figure is felt all throughout.
The plot tries to stress how this is mostly about relationships between mothers and daughters (even taking cue from Luchino Visconti's "Bellissima") and makes most male appareances seem intrusive, but never inconsequential.
In one of the film's most striking scenes, Raimunda's sister Sole (Lola Dueñas) terrified and fascinated by having her mother again, shyly asks "Will my father show up?".
Her mom replies "I hope not".
What they don't know is that he's been there all along.

This post is part of the Dads in Media Blog-a-thon hosted by RC of Strange Culture.

3 comments:

RC said...

interesting analysis...it's interesting to think about how such women-centric films like this still have the unseen father/male influencing the progression of the story.

Thanks for participating in the blog-a-thon. I hope you will have a chance to read the post of the other participants.

Scott said...

A father's role in his daughter's life is (based on what I read) more important that the role in a son's life. A woman often marries her "father". It makes dynamics like what you're talking about here so interesting.

Michael Parsons said...

I totally agree with Scott. How ofter do we hear the term single father? Not nearly as much as single mother, and when we do, it is usually due to the death of the mother.
Men are saddled with such horrible human traits as abandoning their families, cheating and abuse, and it is usually the women, the mothers left to pick up the pieces and sort it out.
Hence why Almodóvar, being a gay man, focuses his films on women. They are strong amazing creatures who hardly ever get their story told in Hollywood (an industry run by men)
Isn't it funny that most films starring men the come out of the Hollywood system focus on them being hero's rather than monsters.