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Pedro Almodovar's Films to Get Psychoanalytical Treatment at UCLA Institute

Pedro Almodovar - Broken Embraces
Pedro Almodovar, far right, on the set of "Broken Embraces"

The New Center for Psychoanalysis will examine the filmmaker's "boundary crossing, jealousy, rage, possessiveness, revenge," says one Ph.D. "It's like Marx Brothers comedy gone wild."

You probably would not think of UCLA's New Center for Psychoanalysis, one of the first and most eminent psychiatric institutes in America outside New York, as a moviegoers' mecca, but think again.

Inspired by the success of last year's conference on the films of Charlie Kaufman, the NCP is hosting Mirrors of the Heart: The Films of Pedro Almodovar, a symposium on farce, human relatedness and psychoanalysis.

It's an all-day event on April 16, open to the shrinks, the shrunk and the general public; there's also a Friday night Almodovar film series followed by briefer psychoanalyst talks this week and April 8.

"These films are like dreams," said NCP's Dr. Thomas Brod, coordinator of the program. "There's anxiety in small measures, and you're always in identification with the characters, no matter what they're doing. It's open to all sorts of possibilities. The visual qualities are so exciting, and there's plenty to chew on psychoanalytically. So we like to have psychoanalysts from many different kinds of theoretical perspectives discussing it."

Forget about the sort of old-school simplistic explanations you get from movies like Anatole Litvak's The Snake Pit (which Brod uses in psychoanalysis courses "for humor") or Alfred Hitchcock's cartoonishly Freudian movie Spellbound. "This happened, then as a result you're stuck in that pattern forever -- nobody's life is that linear," Brod said. And the lives in Almodovar's movies are downright bent.

"He gets into primordial processes: boundary crossing, jealousy, rage, possessiveness, revenge," said Peter Wolson, Ph.D. "It's like Marx Brothers comedy gone wild."

And why are we so interested in watching? "We're wrestling within our own psyche, even though we are quote normal and civilized, hopefully. He gets into issues we may want to avoid, but he has an authenticity," Wolson said.

"Charlie Kaufman's films are so fantastical that there is an emotional distance. With Almodovar, you're emotionally gripped. He has psychological credibility, because he's not trying to therapize these situations, he's just taking us into them. It's not like The Sopranos, with a therapist trying to analyze a psychopath and you're wondering how real and effective that is. If you go through the entire canon of Almodovar, you'll see all the perversions known to us."

"Voyeurism, blackmail, unconscious fantasy, early relationships that persist in an adult's mind -- his films really capture that," says Sandra E. Fenster, Ph.D, a Beverly Hills-based specialist in treating borderline, narcissistic and psychotic states. Fenster, who wrote about regression in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button for the International Journal of Psychoanalysis, will use Almodovar's 2009 Broken Embraces to illustrate obsessive love triangles and jealous revenge.

"Almost all Almodovar movies are material for clinical insights and psychological insights outside the clinical context," said Dr. Apurva Shah, who will give an overview of the oeuvre. "The philosopher Slavoj Zizek calls the reality of movies 'hyper-reality.' Movies tell us more about ourselves than we can find out in a normal situation."

For instance, Bad Education is useful in understanding the "doppelganger" defense used to recover from sexual trauma.
"My approach is less clinical," Shah said. "I do this for fun. A fun that is more cognitive."

For more information, visit www.almodovarUCLA.com or www.n-c-p.org.