Almodovar’s Madrid

THE city of Madrid is no less essential to the films of Pedro Almodóvar than kinky sex, crimes of passion, eye-popping primary colours or gasp-inducing plot twists. Though born out in Castilla-La Mancha – Don Quixote country – Almodóvar made his punkish early movies here in the capital, where the death of General Franco gave rise to a buckwild creative scene.

Later, soberer melodramas like the recent Julieta (2015) have shown his adoptive hometown in a more nostalgic, melancholy light. Now one of the most widely admired auteurs in world cinema, the director has become “a Spanish brand”, says Sacha Azcona, while his Madrid stands as the centre of the “Almodóvarian universe.”

Azcona is the author of a new travel guide, El Madrid de Almodóvar, which maps out walking routes around locations used in the director’s movies. “But I wanted to go a step further,” he says. “Once you see where a scene was shot, where do you go next?”

So, Azcona also flags up surrounding landmarks, adds notes on local history, and recommends his favourite spots to eat and drink nearby. He’s more a casual fan of the films than a serious aficionado, but as a native madrileño takes a kind of civic pride in their setting.

“We love our city, and we love to show it off as if it was our house.” For now, the book is only available in Spanish, though he hopes an English translation will follow soon. In the meantime, we used his guide to visit 10 vital locations on the Almodóvar map of Madrid.

CUARTEL DE CONDE DUQUE Carmen Maura – first among the muses known in Spain as “Almodóvar’s women” – plays a transexual actress in a tangerine dress, who stops in the street on a hot summer night to demand that a sanitation worker soak her with cold water. “Hose me down! Don’t be shy!” That now-classic scene from Law Of Desire (1987) was shot against the grand portico of Conde Duque Cultural Centre, a hub of art galleries and performance spaces in the former barracks of the Royal Guard. Sacha Azcona particularly recommends the annual autumn jazz festival.

PLAZA DE CHUECA Almodóvar’s first domestic megahit Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990) captured the grubbiness of the Chueca district in that era. A young Antonio Banderas – playing the bonkers lovesick kidnapper of a former porn star – struts across the main square wearing a goofy false moustache, and robs pills from a local drug dealer.

There is no such shady behaviour these days, and the plaza has been thoroughly scrubbed up to form the core of Madrid’s hyper-stylish gay quarter. One dusty holdover from the past is Taberna de Ángel Sierra, the 100-year-old bodega where Almodóvar regulars Marisa Paredes and Kiti Mánver chat over a beer in his gentler mid-period movie The Flower Of My Secret (1995). Sacha Ancona also notes that nearby the Panta Rhei is “by far Madrid’s best art and design bookstore.”

RESTAURANTE VIRIDIANA Named after the 1961 film by one of Almodóvar’s idols, Luis Buñuel, this beloved Madrid institution has been his favourite place to eat for more than 40 years. Owner Abraham García is as famous in this town as the director himself, and Almodóvar gave him a cameo in The Flower Of My Secret as a waiter caught up in a student protest. García’s cooking tends toward classic Castilian offal dishes, but Ancona always goes for the creamy rice with boar shoulder (“Delish,” he says), and the orange blossom flan (“Made in heaven.”).

HALL OF REALMS In the early scenes of Live Flesh (1997), poor Penelope Cruz goes into labour on the chaotic night of 1970’s Francoist crackdown, and gives birth on a bus right outside the Hall of Realms. An ostentatious 17th-century banquet venue built for King Philip IV, it has lately been annexed to the neighbouring Prado Museum. British “starchitect” Norman Foster is now restoring the salon to glory as part of that world-renowned artistic treasure house.

TABLAO VILLA ROSA Almodóvar shot a key scene from High Heels (1991) in this century-old wine bar: pop idol Miguel Bosé plays a Madrid judge turned drag queen named Lethal, belting out the torch song Un Año De Amor. Today you’re more likely to see live flamenco on the stage, while sharing panfuls of paella, garlic prawns and salted green peppers. It’s a nicely designed “tablao” for dinner and a show, with Andalusian-style flourishes all over the tiles, windows and woodwork.

TEATRO LOPE DE VEGA The bookending sequences of Almodóvar’s girlfriend-in-a-coma classic Talk To Her (2001) show an ethereal performance of the modern dance piece Café Müller, by German choreographer Pina Bausch. They were partly shot in this neoclassical theatre at the Broadwayesque west end of the Gran Vía, which has hosted the musical version of The Lion King for a few years now.

OUR LADY OF ALMUDENA CEMETERY Even the lightest Almodóvar comedies tend to sneak in a murder or suicide. The vitality of his films has something to do with mortality. No fewer than three of them – High Heels, Kika, Live Flesh – pay a visit to this sprawling necropolis just outside Madrid, where more than five million corpses outnumber the living population of the city. It’s free to enter, you can see why the director is so drawn to the gloomy beauty of the place.

MUSEO CHICOTE This 1930s-vintage Art Deco lounge is famous for its past patrons – Frank Sinatra, Sophia Loren, and ubiquitous Madrid bar-hopper Ernest Hemingway (who inspired the Papa Doble, a popular house cocktail of rum and grapefruit). Almodóvar fans will also know the bar from Broken Embraces (2009), and the scene where Blanca Portillo gulps down a large gin before revealing dark secrets to blind film-maker Lluís Homar and their lovechild Tamar Novas.

BAR COCK Also seen in Broken Embraces, this splendidly-named pub-club is where Tamar Novas works as a DJ in that movie. Just around the corner from its sister bar Chicote, it’s a stately wood-panelled drawing room that gets pretty rowdy after midnight, when even the sharp, classy veteran bartenders can be seen dancing to O.M.D. Ancona says he prefers to drink at Toni2 after hours, a wonderful nearby piano bar where trendies and oldies crowd around for pre-dawn singalongs.

CIRCULO DE BELLAS ARTES Almodóvar’s masterpiece All About My Mother (1999) was mostly filmed in Barcelona, but hinges on a tragedy shot around this emblematic Madrid building – the arts centre where Cecilia Roth’s teenage son is run over and killed after a performance of A Streetcar Named Desire. The interior has elegant rooms for plays, screenings and exhibitions but Ancona sends visitors straight up to the Azotea roof bar for sunset drinks and a “360 degree view of Madrid.” From up there, you can see clear across the Almodóvarian universe.

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