vincenzo pinto/getty images
vincenzo pinto/getty images
In 1983, Venice Festival director Gianluigi Rondi deemed Dark Habits, the debut film by a young Spanish director, “obscene”. Now, 36 years later, said Spanish director laughingly reminded the audience of that fact when he picked up the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement in directing at the 76th Venice International Film Festival. Pedro Almodóvar called the honor an “act of poetic justice” and added that then jury president Sergio Leone liked it and that he loved returning five years later with Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, the movie that would make him a cult legend early in his career. Despite his success –one Oscar, five Golden Globe nominations and two wins (for Habla Con Ella and Todo Sobre Mi Madre) – and having made 21 feature films, including Volver, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, Kika and High Heels, this is the first time the 69-year old has received an award from a top European film festival.
Almodóvar calls himself “the product of Spanish democracy” having risen to fame after surviving the dictatorship of General Franco. Festival director Alberto Barbera stated in his tribute: "Almodóvar isn't only the greatest and most influential Spanish director since Buñuel, he is a filmmaker who has offered us the most multifaceted, controversial, and provocative portraits of post-Franco Spain.”
Interestingly Barbera, who has been raked over the coals by international media for the lack of female directors in this year’s competition, lauded the Spanish director for his portrayal of women: "Without forgetting that Almodóvar excels, above all, in painting incredibly original female portraits, thanks to an exceptional empathy which allows him to represent their power, emotional richness, and inevitable weaknesses with a rare and touching authenticity."
Almodóvar explained his love for deep colors in his films with a rebellion to his rather drab upbringing: “I grew up in La Mancha, in the center of Spain, a region that is extremely conservative, Calvinist, where we see little color, very arid, the opposite of what I felt in me. I do not remember seeing red in my childhood, only the black of mourning."
As he kissed his award, a visibly moved Almodóvar infused his typical humor to end his acceptance speech: “This Lion is going to become my pet, along with the two cats I live with. Thanks, from the bottom of my heart for giving me this award."
Later in the evening, he boarded a boat from the Lido that took him to the magnificent Scuola Grande di Santa Maria della Misericordia to celebrate with 500 of his closest friends, among them the HFPA. And the cast of Joker, including Joaquin Phoenix (with girlfriend Rooney Mara), Zazie Baetz as well as Monica Bellucci, Valeria Golino and Anthony Mackie. Also on hand was Miuccia Prada whose company sponsored the event. Noticeably absent but with good reason were the two actors who owe him their career: Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas (who plays his director in Pain and Glory) are both filming and will attend the festival only for a few hours to promote their own films.
Almodóvar, ever the consummate teacher, held a masterclass the day after his ceremony.