Smile! You are in Spain: Almodóvar and the spectacle of authenticity in Spanish cinema

In his 30-year long career director Pedro Almodóvar has coined some of the most enduring and recognisable stock images of contemporary Spain. Yet, his highly idiosyncratic mix of camp and sombreness (of silicone and sentiment, in the words of a notable commentator), is seen by many as a grotesque deformation of Spanishness that has projected a skewed image of the country around the world. In stark opposition to all-smile official tourism campaigns, Almodóvar's Spain is a country of contradiction and excess - passion, paradox and pain. A more ‘authentic country - or at least this is the claim implicit in his films.

Using Almodóvar's spectacularisation of authenticity as a departure point, this presentation addresses the relation between nation branding and the film industry through the notion of country image. The case of Spain is particularly interesting for a study of national image due to the unusual confluence of five factors: rapid and successful rebranding in the 1980s and 1990s, strong cultural industries, strong tourist market, rapid social transformation and uneven international profile. The image of Spain encoded and disseminated by today's Spanish cinema is closely related to a deliberate attempt by filmmakers such as Almodóvar to explain a reconstituted Spain to domestic and international audiences. Creating visual images and establishing a symbolic image, projecting images on the screen and projecting a national image abroad, contesting old stereotypes and yet injecting new life into many of them, contributing to normalise a country that once was "different" and yet capitalising on its undiminished queerness - all these are operations that define and explain the image of Spain as portrayed in contemporary Spanish films.

Alfredo Martínez-Expósito is Professor of Hispanic Studies and Head of the School of Languages and Linguistics at The University of Melbourne. He has published extensively on Spanish queer literature and cinematic representations of the male body. He is also interested in critical approaches to the geopolitics of the Spanish language. He is currently researching the contribution of the national film industry to the domestic and international promotion of a renewed image of Spain. He is past President of the Association for Iberian and Latin American Studies of Australasia and Fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. In 2008 he received the Spanish Order of Civil Merit for his contribution to the study of Spanish language and culture in Australia.