My first Almodovar movie was probably in college and it was probably Labyrinth of Passion, starring a young Antonio Banderas. My personal early favorite film of his is Matador, with its odd take on the cultures of sex and death.
Almodovar has a set of themes that I like to look for and then discover in each of his films. He may or may not have put them there consciously but they have come to define him. I dont mean obvious things like transgendered characters, strong women who draw others in around them or plots about the cruelty and disappointment of love. The themes I have in mind are more in the background and sometimes peripheral to the main story, like an Almodovar-esque wallpaper.
The Lives of Strangers
In idle moments, when we are waiting for something to appear, the camera will catch a peek of other people's lives. A woman sits by herself in a car. Strange shadows in a distant window. Receptionists, when approached, quickly close a drawer. Every character, no matter how minor, has a rich inner life, briefly glimpsed.
Nostalgia. An emotional catastrophe. Everybody is ready to cry. Often with sweeping music rising in the background. And everybody carries a handkercheif which they can quickly pull out to dry the tears of a stranger.
Characters from the fringes of Society
There is one scene in the movie All About My Mother where the protagonist is looking for her old prostitute friends. She arrives at some area where cars are slowly driving around in a sort of procession. The headlights of the cars look like stage lights. The brightly dressed prostitutes prance slowly around.
Before we leave this scene, we see two prostitutes who are off to themselves, idly playing the childrens game of patty-cake. The entire sequence seems as if it was lifted from a Fellini movie, as if any moment 8-1/2's La Saraghina herself, with her painted eyes and toothy smile will walk by and do her dance.
Almodovar films include characters with a hint of unreality, like refugees from a dream. But the characters are not surreal nor carnivalesque. They are real but exist at the edges of the everyday life:suicidal lovers, terrorists and pregnant nuns, people who are both unfamiliar and yet share the same capacity for emotional tragedy and mischief.
Voyage into the Underworld
In many movies, there is a search for a missing person or someone who bears something vital. There is an inevitable scene where the searcher, like a modern Orpheus, must make a descent into the Underworld. In Almodovar, this is a modern underworld, a street world of drugs and prostitution, with men and women who cast our hero an unsavory look.
Its the movie Labyrinth of Passion (I think) where Almodovar himself, dressed in a black leather jacket with his bare legs showing, makes an appearance as the lead singer in a band. The song was'nt much but it was catchy: Gran Ganga, which translates roughly as Big Party.
I've bought a few albums based on nothing more than hearing a song in an Almodovar film. Here's two songs I'll make available:
1. Paloma by Caetano Veloso from the film Talk to Her
2. Puro Teatro by La Lupe (the Queen of Latin Soul) from the film Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown