Pedro Almodovar: I don't intend to SCANDALISE anyone
Pedro Almodovar burst on to the world cinema stage with his hugely successful and outrageous 1988 comedy Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown.
The film won him an Oscar nomination and a major fan following from audiences, who craved for a new order in world cinema.
They couldn't get enough of Almodovar, who challenged the audience's notions of gender, sexuality, and other wide-ranging issues film after film.
After a string of highly acclaimed films early in is career -- Matador (1986), Law of Desire (1987) as well as strong new entries -- Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down (1990), High Heels (1991) and Kika (1993), he won the Best Foreign Language Oscar for All About My Mother (1999) and one for Best Screenplay for Talk to Her (2002).
From his early comedies, Almodovar transitioned to some very serious issues -- exploring child sexual abuse (Bad Education, 2004) and revenge, power and sexuality in The Skin I Live In (2011).
His latest film I'm So Excited! takes the director back to his comic roots. This is also his most sexually explicit film with homosexual undertones.
Set in an airplane -- in the world of first class passengers, male stewards and the pilots in cockpit -- I'm So Excited! is a wild ride where drunk and drugged-out passengers explore various sexual fantasies and have R-rated conversations.
Meanwhile, the plane happens to have some landing issues. Almodovar also layers the mad comedy with a critique of Spain's current economic crisis.
On a recent visit to New York for his new film's promotions, Almodovar made a rather dramatic entrance at Cosby Street Hotel in SoHo and dove right into interacting with the media. Aseem Chhabra reports from New York.
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Image: Pedro Almodovar with Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas
'Almost every word in Spanish has more than one meaning'
Pedro Almodovar: I'm So Excited! and the word 'excited' have other meanings in Spanish. It implies enthusiasm, but also sexual arousal. So, welcome to the party!
You gave a different title in Spanish -- the Spanish title is Los Amantes Pasajeros.
Seriously, almost every word in Spanish has more than one meaning and it depends on your facial expression, the context and the tone in which you speak.
So 'passenger' in Spanish is 'pasajero' which means someone who is traveling. But it is also something that is fleeting. In Spanish, the title means The Fleeting Lovers as well as The Passenger Lovers. Even French and Italian have similar double meanings but it doesn't work in English.
For the English title, we took the advantage of the Pointer Sisters' song that we have in the movie. I'm So Excited also represents the mood of the characters after having a few drinks.
Image: A scene from I'm So Excited!
'It is liberating when you are not bound to a story or a character'
You chose a Pointer Sisters song for a crucial scene in the film. Does it have any particular significance in your life?
I like it. I knew it when I was young and I love the Pointer Sisters. I liked the good disco music -- Donna Summers, Grace Jones. I think it was a perfect song for the stewards.
Also, I wanted a song of that period. It represented the 1980s. I was young then and could enjoy that feeling with the young people.
What is your method of working and how did you come up with the idea of the film?
This will sound weird, but sometimes when I am alone at home, I write for the sake of writing. It's a kind of an exercise. It is liberating when you are not bound to a story or a character. You are just doing it for the sake of it.
I wrote the cockpit sequence just for fun. The result was very entertaining, so I moved from the cockpit to the galley and I wrote some of those sequences.
At some point, I showed it to my brother Augustine and my secretary and they loved it. But the real challenge was to move from these comic sequences, something I wrote to entertain myself to actually build the structure and the story that has substance. And that took longer.
But when I finished the first draft, I didn't like it. It took me time to develop the metaphor for the economic crisis in Spain. So the plane goes in circles in the clouds, without knowing whether they are going to land, until they make an emergency landing.
Also the question of whether they are in heaven or on earth. That walk they do from the plane to the building is certainly from one world to the next.
Image: A scene from I'm So Excited!
'I'm not a sad person'
The first time I saw your film was What Have I Done To Deserve This at the Los Angeles Film Festival and you came to speak there...
It was the first time I came to the US...
And you had wonderful big jet-black hair...
You don't like my hair now? This is not natural. I dye my hair. I am like a blonde ambition (laughs).
What do you think of your two cinematic aspects -- a wild comic filmmaker, who just shocks people, but also makes films with tragic, dark themes.
I am neither a sad person nor do I intend to scandalise anyone. I'm So Excited and The Skin I Live In were the same aspect of me.
One can say that I have been evolving, not getting better, mind you, because that's not really the case. I am very happy that I am not making the kind of films I was making in the 1980s. As for my journey through the so-called darker period of films, it was because I was interested in those stories. But I am also quite passionate about comedy.
Just because I make a dark film like The Skin I Live In, it doesn't mean I am experiencing that kind of horror in my own skin.
I think as an author, I always have a hard time to give my characters a happy ending, except that they are better off at the end than they were in the beginning.
In The Skin I Live In that deals with identity and sexuality, one of the things I am proposing is that identity is not identified by surface image or gender. Having this woman escape from the house, in which she was kept and her arriving at her mother's store at the end of film is my way of trying to combine the positive and the negative aspects in the film.
Image: Antonio Banderas in The Skin I Live In
'I have never broken or thrown a phone'
Do you have psychic powers or premonitions?
No, but I think the movie has this kind of premonition power. It's a theory that in the present you can see the future.
So for example, I have never broken or thrown a phone. But in the Women of Verge of Nervous Breakdown, they throw everything. But after that, I threw my phones too.
In Matador, there is a scene when the girl escapes from the man who has been chasing her and she walks into a movie theatre where we see a scene from the Duel in the Sun.
That scene is presaging the end of the film where they will die together.
Image: A scene from I'm So Excited!
'I don't think about the audience when I make my movies'
Is there a particular age group that you make movies for?
Bad Education is not a movie for a very young audience. When I was 10, I used to see films by Bergman, Bunuel, Orson Welles and Antonioni. The theatre ushers would let me go in, but it was forbidden to children, because in Spain they had big censorship. I enjoyed those films and think I understood them. So it depends.
I don't think about the audience when I make my movies. But in some movies like The Skin I Live In, Bad Education and Law of Desire, I would ask parents not to allow their young kids to see them.
When I was shooting Live Flesh, it was the time when The English Patient was a big movie and everyone was talking about it. I was shooting at night with Penelope and Anthony Minghella dropped by. He was a big star at the moment, promoting the movie. His son Max was 10 at that time and Anthony said that they came to the shoot because Max desperately wanted to meet me because he was a big fan of my movies. I thought it was a joke.
I asked him what he had seen. He said 'I love Law of Desire." I was really shocked. I didn't say anything to Anthony because I became close friends with him, but I really wanted to tell him "You shouldn't show these kinds of movies to your young son."
So Max Minghella saw it when he was 10 and he grew up to become a good actor. I saw such films when I was young, but I don't think it is the proper thing to do.
But as I said earlier, when I am writing and shooting, I don't think about the audience or any kind of age.
Image: A scene from Women On The Verge Of Mental Breakdown
'I come from a very humble family and so I relate to the problems of that social class'
You are using I'm So Excited! as a metaphor for the Spanish society and their class systems. Then how do you reconcile with the fact that as a director you probably fly first class?
By having a big heart and empathising with people who have problems. Even though, of course I do fly first class, but that is just ancillary, since I still feel that I belong to the economy class. It is how I grew up.
I come from a very humble family and so I relate to the problems of that social class. I am the same guy I was as a young boy. I don't have economic problems and I am in a privileged position, but I do fight against this social inequality.
The gap between the rich and the poor has especially grown in the last five years and I find it quite unsettling. The party that is in power now sort of considers me a bete noire.
Do you remember when you first traveled by first class?
It was when I was coming here (to the US), but not the first time when I came with What Have I Done To Deserve This? That time the distributor did not even have money to get a separate room for me. I shared a room with another person. It was a big bed. Nothing happened (laughs loudly). That was in 1984.
So I think it was for Women... when I was in a nice hotel. That was for the New York Film Festival from where I flew to LA for the Oscars. And then I remember very clearly that I was put up in a villa in LA in the Sunset Marquis Hotel.
Image: A scene from I'm So Excited!
'I would love it if they show this film on the plane'
What film did you watch when you were flying to New York this time?
I don't watch movies in the planes. I read and write a lot.
Do you think this movie will be shown on the plane?
I would love that (laughs).
You were planning to make a film in New York. What happened to that project?
I wanted to do that a year and a half ago, I was here and was writing something. I was on a beach in New York State. But I didn't get what I wanted. I'm still interested in the plot and the story but my collaboration with a writer didn't turn out the way I expected. What I need to do is write a script, because I don't have one now.
Would it be in Spanish or English?
In English, and that's the problem for me. If I could write I know exactly what I would say in the story. It's based on something written by a wonderful author that I bought the rights for. But I have to find someone to write it for me. Let's say that I have a first draft in Spanish that I feel very close to but I don't know how I would do it.
Image: Pedro Almodovar
Photographs: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters