PARIS • Pedro Almodovar, Spain's most celebrated living movie director, will lead the jury at this year's Cannes film festival, its organisers said yesterday.
The flamboyant auteur, who made his name with a string of colourful and melodramatic black comedies, including Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown (1988) and Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1989), said: "I am grateful, honoured and a bit overwhelmed."
He is the first Spaniard to preside over the world's top film event in its 70-year history.
"I can only tell that I'll devote myself, body and soul, to this task, that it is both a privilege and a pleasure," the 67-year-old director added.
Although he won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film for his powerful 1999 drama All About My Mother, which also won him Best Director at Cannes, he has never taken its top prize, the Palme d'Or.
The man who would become known as the "Tennessee Williams of La Mancha" began to make his mark during the Movida, the hedonistic Madrid-led cultural revival that followed the end of Francisco Franco's dictatorship in 1975.
His Oscar-nominated movie, Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown, brought him a cult international following, and his movies are often marked by the strength and warmth of his leading women, played by Carmen Maura, Victoria Abril, Rossy de Palma and Marisa Paredes.
As his films grew more ambitious and serious, Almodovar helped launch the Hollywood careers of actors Antonio Banderas, Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem.
Cannes film festival director Thierry Fremaux said his "20 films form an incandescent work, a legacy of his punk, protest-filled youth, driven by an insatiable passion for female figures and the history of film itself".
Almodovar was born in the dark days of Franco's dictatorship to a farming family in a small, dusty town south of Madrid, where his mother wrote letters for her illiterate neighbours.
He grew up in the company of women and his mother has been a key reference throughout his life, with maternity a recurring theme of his movies, particularly in All About My Mother. He was sent to a Catholic seminary at age eight in the hope that he might become a priest.
But the exuberant rebel later ran off to Madrid, joined a parody glam-rock duo and began dabbling in film-making while working as a telephone company clerk.
He has depicted the freeing up of Spanish society across 20 colourful films powered by quirky and dramatic heroines. Long synonymous with subversive stories that mixed humour, transgression, drugs and sex, the director now often finds himself accused of not being "Almodovarian" enough in his later, more serious films.
Mr Fremaux said: "With his dazzling and iconoclastic 35-year filmography, this virtuoso storyteller has forged a strong bond with filmgoers the world over."
Although he is "ever surprising", Mr Fremaux said Almodovar, at 67 with his thick hair gone grey, never loses "sight of his pet themes: passion, friendship, destiny, guilt and buried secrets".
English-speaking directors have presided over the Cannes jury in eight of the past 10 years.
The 70th Cannes film festival will run from May 17 to 28.
The rest of the jury and the films that will make up its official selection will be announced in mid- April.