“Volver” was snubbed by the Oscars in the best foreign-language category, not much of an oversight in my book: It’s a good film — with some terrific performances from Penelope Cruz, Carmen Maura and Chus Lampreave — but it’s not among director Pedro Almodovar’s best.
The best can be found in “Viva Pedro: Pedro Almodovar Classics Collection,” an essential new release from Sony. The set comes with handsome but awkward packaging (watch the @$*#&@! spindles) and decent extras — except for the curious and unexplained absence of any Almodvar interviews.
I’ve loved Almodovar’s work since seeing “Matador” back in the laserdisc days. “Viva Pedro!” gives you a good feel for how the artist has improved and matured since then, but there’s plenty to be said for his bold earlier works.
These are the same films that made the art-house circuit as reissues before the release of “Volver.” Almodovar’s earlier films aren’t easily found in the U.S. — at least at your local Blockbuster — and so we welcome “Live Flesh,” “Matador” and “Law of Desire.” The thriller “Matador” was last seen on laser and VHS two decades ago. It’s terrific here, awash in color and black comedy, although the shock value has lost some of its power over the unruly decades.
The remastered version of “Women on the Verge” doesn’t feel like a big upgrade. “All About My Mother’s” makeover is more elegant, with fine flesh tones. “Talk to Her,” “Bad Education,” and “Flower” appear to be straight port-overs from the single discs already available here. In general, audio is uneven but good. Subtitles take some liberties.
Unfortunately, the early ’90s films “Tie Me Up!” and “Kika” aren’t part of the deal. Antonio Banderas shows up in three films; Penelope Cruz is in two, but only at length in “All About My Mother.” Watching these films more or less back-to-back pays off big time — you’ll laugh, cry and spend a lot of time trying to figure out if you’re watching a man or woman. Viva Pedro! indeed.
Here’s how I’d rank them, from the best to the last-but-still-pretty-freaking-good.
1. All About My Mother
2. Women on the Verge
4. Talk to Her
5. Law of Desire
6. Bad Education
7. Flower of My Secret
8. Live Flesh