Spanish director Pedro Almodovar awarded Venice’s Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement

Spanish director Pedro Almodovar was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 76th Venice Film Festival ongoing here at the Lido of the lagoon city on Thursday.

He received the prize from Venice Film Festival Director Alberto Barbera and Lucrecia Martel, this year’s jury president, at a ceremony ahead of a special screening of his most iconic film “Women on the verge of a Nervous Breakdown.”

“The first time I left Spain, as a filmmaker, was to come to the Venice Film Festival with ‘Dark Habits’ in 1983 … Venice was my baptism as an international director,” Almodovar recalled.

“I am immensely grateful for this unexpected Golden Lion, which admits me into a group that — with no false modesty — I am not certain I deserve to be part of: Bunuel, Antonioni, Kieslowski, Pontecorvo, Rossellini, Dreyer, and the list could go on,” he said.

Explaining the motivations for this year’s choice, the festival’s director Barbera said that Almodovar “not only is the greatest and most influential Spanish director since Bunuel; he is a filmmaker who has offered us the most multifaceted, controversial and provocative portraits of post-Franco Spain.”

“The topics of transgression, desire and identity are the terrain of choice for his films, which he imbues with corrosive humor and adorns with a visual splendor that confers unusual radiance on the aesthetic camp and pop art to which he explicitly refers,” Barbera said.

Almodovar was born in Spain’s La Mancha region in 1949. He left his family and his home at 17 to move to Madrid with the specific goal of studying cinema and directing films.

Achievements in his long career include “All About My Mother” (1999), with which he won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film and the Best Director Award at the Cannes Film Festival.

In 2002, his “Talk to Her” earned him another Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and in 2004 “Bad Education” was chosen as the opening movie at Cannes.

Still at Cannes, two years later, Almodovar won the Best Screenplay Award with “Volver,” while the six actresses in the film — including renowned Penelope Cruz — collectively received the Best Actress Award.

Describing his experience as director during the awards ceremony, Almodovar told the audience: “In my world (films) people suffer, but they also rejoice without prejudice, they are passionate, diverse, flawed and generous, with an immense capacity for survival, yet fragile and vulnerable, all of them endowed with great moral autonomy.”

The Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement is the highest recognition Venice gives to filmmakers (and actors or actresses) for their overall artistic contribution to cinema.

For Almodovar, it came some 31 years after he brought to the Lido his most famous and provocative comedy-drama — the above-mentioned “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” — with which he has become internationally renowned.

Back in 1988, the movie was awarded a collateral prize only (the Golden Osella), despite the head of the festival jury at the time — late Italian director Sergio Leone — telling him it was very relevant for Venice to include such innovative movies, according to Almodovar.

“I still remember that episode (the encounter with Leone and his praise) with pleasure, and the fact that I am now given the career Golden Lion here represents, 31 years later, an act of justice,” he said.