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Where Should I Start With Pedro Almodóvar?

Elena Anaya kisses Pedro Almodovar before a screening of The Skin I Live In at Cannes in May.
Elena Anaya kisses Pedro Almodovar before a screening of The Skin I Live In at Cannes in May.

Photo by VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images

This weekend, The Skin I Live In, Pedro Almodóvar’s 18th movie, opens in the United States. I recently spent a lot of time watching (and rewatching) all of Almodóvar’s movies. But if you haven’t seen many—or, for that matter, any—of the Spanish director’s films, what are the first three you absolutely must watch?

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988)

Almodóvar’s breakthrough film is also his most accessible. There’s a message to the movie—how hard it is to really communicate when technology makes it so easy for us avoid each other—but it’s also a madcap comedy with an irresistibly light touch. Almodóvar has a tendency to shoehorn too much material into his films, but he avoided that problem here. It’s a fast-paced tour of Madrid at a time when the city felt great about itself.

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Broken Embraces (2009)

Once you’ve seen Women on the Verge, check out Broken Embraces: Not only will you weep at the super sad love story of filmmaker Mateo Blanco (Lluís Homar) and his gorgeous star Lena (Penélope Cruz), you’ll also laugh when you recognize that Chicas y Maletas, the film Mateo is making, bears a remarkable resemblance to a certain 1988 movie with an eight-word title.

What Have I Done To Deserve This? (1984)

Almodóvar had no formal training in filmmaking, and he made his early films on a shoestring budget in a country with very little cinematic infrastructure. That’s my way of excusing the lo-fi look of his early films. You should see at least one of these movies, though, and I recommend What Have I Done To Deserve This? It’s his most socially conscious movie, set among the slums of Madrid’s Barrio de la Concepción. Carmen Maura plays Gloria, a pill-popping, illiterate cleaner who lives in a cramped apartment with her two teenage sons, a drug dealer and a gay hustler; her macho cab-driver husband; and her miserly mother-in-law. That probably sounds terribly depressing, and in any other director’s hands, it would be. But Almodóvar perks things up with his usual dose of lunacy: a kind-hearted prostitute who lives next door, a pet lizard called Money, and a very tasty murder mystery.

(Further reading: June Thomas explains what she learned from watching all of Almodóvar’s films and ranks them from best to worst.)

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