Pedro Almodovar returns to Goyas

Quit the entity in 2005 in disagreement with voting methods

MADRID -- If Daniel Monzon's "Cell 211" took home the top prize at Sunday night's Goya awards ceremony in Madrid, Academy president Alex de la Iglesia's political savvy has been the talk of the town ever since.

De la Iglesia wooed Spain's prodigal son, Pedro Almodovar, for nearly a year in an effort to repair a schism that left Spain's most international director in self-exile, frustrated with what he deemed the academy's cold shoulder.

"I'm here because you have a very persistent president, who insisted until satisfied," Almodovar told the audience as they settled back into their seats after the standing ovation that welcomed him back into the fold.

The effort paid off with Almodovar's surprise entrance at center stage to an unsuspecting audience that included Spain's Culture Minister Angeles Gonzalez-Sinde, Almodovar muse Penelope Cruz and the entire Spanish film industry.

The move highlights the finesse De la Iglesia employs to heal old wounds in the Spanish Academy. Almodovar quit the entity in 2005 citing disagreements with voting methods for the Goya Awards and hasn't shown up since. His next target is one of Spain's other Oscar-winning directors, Jose Luis Garci, who also fell out with the Academy.

Another public relations coup for De la Iglesia at the Goyas was to get Cruz and boyfriend Javier Bardem to sit together in the front row during the ceremony. Spain's two Oscar-winning thespians have never publicly acknowledged their relationship, aside from the standard "friends," and always avoid being seen at events together. But they are the best calling card the Spanish industry has when it comes to unity, glamour and success.

"The Goyas, even though he wasn't competing, represent his [De la Iglesia's] triumph and his consecration as a true statesman," wrote film critic Carlos Boyero in the Spanish daily El Pais.

But De la Iglesia's effort at unity is only one prong of his strategy. He has also sought to reshape the negative image Spanish audiences have of homegrown cinema and the hostility of the local press towards the sector, which often is accused of living off of subsidies.

"The audience, those we work for, has gone to see our films more than ever before and that it is an honor and a source of pride," De la Iglesia said in his speech at the ceremony. "Let's think they are giving us an opportunity. We must make the most of it."

Indeed, it seems Spanish audiences are looking to give their filmmakers the benefit of the doubt. Sunday's telecast on pubcaster Television Espanola was the most-watched ceremony ever with 26.4% of the audience and 4.65 million viewers -- more than a million more viewers than last year's. Almodovar's golden moment saw 32% -- some 5.8 million people tuned into the ceremony.

The figure was partially boosted by Television Espanola's no-commercial policy new this year.
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