Academic journal article Music, Sound and the Moving Image

The Bolero in the Cinema of Pedro Almodóvar

Academic journal article Music, Sound and the Moving Image

The Bolero in the Cinema of Pedro Almodóvar

Article excerpt


Leo Bersani (2005: 103) concludes his illuminating essay on Almodóvar by highlighting the filmmaker's immensely touching modesty, as manifested in the final scene of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988) where the director positions the camera exactly where we are unable to hear what the two female characters - Pepa and Marisa - are discussing, as if their topic of conversation was beyond the limits of Almodóvar's imagination. In a new order of human relationships, Bersani maintains that, in contrast to traditional conventions, human sociability as it emerges in Almodóvar's work is notably less constrained by psychological complexity and the weight of meaning.

It is precisely this argumentative strand that I wish to follow in order to explore how this new form of sociability is manifested in Almodóvar's cinema through its (re)appropriation of the bolero musical genre. In particular, I ask how love might be expressed, and the body and its pleasures explored in this new form of Almodóvarian sociability. Constructing my argument around Foucault's proposition for conceiving of alternative ways of forming relationships, new modes of sociability, and sources of bodily pleasure, I intend to demonstrate how the bolero, a musical genre usually considered the absolute embodiment of love between a man and a woman, is submitted to a process of resignification in the director's body of work, throwing the hegemony of heterosexual relationships into crisis. By reappropriating the bolero through a diversity of erotic experience (including the heterosexual experience), Almodóvar succeeds in destabilising the primacy of the heteronormative model. Thus my argument here is that the fluidity of sexual identity amongst his characters (transvestite, transsexual, woman, man, lesbian, gay) renders the bolero a genre open to any type of erotic or sexual experience - to the extent that in High Heels (1991) the famous bolero by Agustín Lara, 'Piensa en mí' ('Think of Me'), is even used to express the confusing and perhaps incestuous relationship between a mother and her daughter.

In the preface to The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences, Foucault states that his book was motivated by a story written by Borges:

Out of the laughter that shattered, as I read the passage, all the familiar landmarks of my thought - our thought, the thought that bears the stamp of our age and our geography - breaking up all the ordered surfaces and all the planes with which we are accustomed to tame the wild profusion of existing things, and continuing long afterwards to disturb and threaten with collapse our age-old distinction between the Same and the Other. ... the thing that, by means of the fable, is demonstrated as the exotic charm of another system of thought, is the limitation of our own, the stark impossibility of thinking that.

([1966] 1970: xvi)

Further on in his argument, Foucault makes the point that 'the monstrous quality that runs through Borges's enumeration consists ... in the fact that the common ground on which such meetings are possible has itself been destroyed. What is impossible is not the propinquity of the things listed, but the very site on which their propinquity would be possible' (ibid: xvi).

Interestingly, this questioning humour, vacillation and disquiet, which Foucault cites as reactions commonly inspired in the readers of Borges' texts, are also those commonly produced by the cinema of Almodóvar, though the common ground between them ends with the latter's removal of normalising discourses of sexuality. What nineteenth century medicine and psychiatry had succeeded in classifying - and not without some effort - through an array of labels and categories is stripped of any clinical gaze in Almodóvar's films.

The question then necessarily arises: what classificatory table and which markers of difference/identity might we use to begin to arrange the fantastic array of characters, diverse and yet with many similarities, that populate the Spanish director's filmography? …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.