From the law of the father to the ethics of care: reimagining the family, the church and the police in the films of Pedro Almodóvar
Spanish cultural studies
film and philosophy
ethics of care
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Abstract© 2018 Dr. Meribah Ruth Rose
Having made twenty feature films since his punk-inflected debut, Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón (1980), Pedro Almodóvar is, internationally, the best-known contemporary Spanish director. His filmography defies simple characterisation, although many have commented on his subversion of gender, genre and traditional markers of Spanish identity. This PhD thesis draws on such discussions, but makes an important contribution to the scholarship by reorienting the focus from the individual to the community. I analyse the representations of three institutions across this corpus: the family, the Church, and the law. Not only is each a regular motif of Almodóvar’s work, they share a nexus to the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, who co-opted them to maintain his regime’s ideological authority. Tracing the ways in which Almodóvar both deconstructs and reimagines these institutions, I explore the extent to which his films suggest that a postmodern aesthetic can give rise to a meaningful ethic. Whilst the director’s transgressive attitude to established social order is refracted throughout his films, for instance in their labyrinthine narratives and genre hybridity, I conclude that he puts forward an ethical framework for community in the democratic era.
Given the diversity of Almodóvar’s works, this thesis draws on a range of conceptual tools. In particular, I adopt the analytical frames offered by feminist and queer understandings of time and space. These conceptual tools foreground different modes of experiencing the world, and allow me to highlight the ways in which Almodóvar’s alternative temporalities and privileging of feminine spaces contribute to his deconstruction of conventional institutions and gender hierarchies. These concepts offer an innovative methodology for approaching these films and allow me to chart ruptures and continuities in the representations of the family, the Church and the law. My research provides not only a comprehensive analysis of the three institutions side-by-side, thus far missing from the literature, but contributes to an understanding of the primacy of community in Almodóvar’s corpus. Whilst these films catalogue various ways in which the family, the Church and the law repress and control individual characters, I propose that the filmmaker nevertheless remains hopeful about alternative social configurations.
This analysis leads to the conclusion that the director has certain requirements for meaningful communities, primarily that they be grounded in the “ethics of care”. A feminist approach to morality, the ethics of care is mentioned only briefly in the wide-ranging scholarship on this director. I extend this by further unpacking the ways in which his preferred communities fit within its parameters. This emerges from the ways in which Almodóvar reimagines (or fails to reimagine) each institution considered by this thesis. Each chapter focuses on one of these institutions and I conclude that Almodóvar is most hopeful about the possibility of creating alternative families, whilst the Church and formal agents of the law are less able to be reimagined according to his ethical framework. Ultimately, this thesis offers us new and tangible ways of thinking not only about community in these films, but more generally in our own lives.