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"The whole world has changed for the worse," Pedro Almodóvar says, a sentiment that's apparent in his latest comedy, I'm So Excited!. The film is reminiscent of another time, one the director admits he feels some yearning for: the 1980s, and, more specifically, Almodóvar's films from that era. "The thing I miss the most about the '80s is my own youth," he says, "but I also miss the feeling of freedom when Spain was coming out of the Franco dictatorship. There was an explosion of liberty. Right now, socially speaking, Spain is going through a regression. If people don't keep fighting for their rights, we're going to be in danger of losing some of them."
Spain is suffering from unemployment rates of more than 25 percent and a punishing austerity regime that's left the unemployed feeling stranded. Almodóvar suggests that I'm So Excited! is a response to these difficult times. The satire takes place onboard a damaged airplane bound for Mexico City that is circling the sky over Toledo, Spain. Once the champagne—and eventually, mescaline—flows, the passengers' secrets come out. "My connection with reality was trying to escape from it," he says, "because it's awful."
Featuring a trio of gay flight attendants, the madame of a high-class brothel, and a hit man, the movie might seem like a frothy farce, but the director reminds us that "on some level, it's a complaint about the times we're living through."
His next project may tackle Spain's economic woes more directly, as it's inspired directly by a news story. As he describes it, "There was one particular case of a 75-year-old woman whose daughter was murdered by her husband, but because they had been married with common funds, she inherited the debts of her son-in-law and got kicked out of her house. It was a horrific case."
But: "It's a good example of how to talk about this crisis."
Ever the populist, Almodóvar adds, "It's also very cinematic. If you make a political movie, it should be a real movie. If you look at Latin American movies in the '70s, they were not good movies. There are exceptions, of course, but they forgot about telling stories."
Tactfully, he declines to name names.
Since those long-gone '80s, Almodóvar has been the most popular European filmmaker of his generation. While he's never had a single film as commercially successful as, say, Amélie, he's succeeded at branding himself with American arthouse audiences in a way that's ensured a measure of success for almost all his works since Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. That came out when I was a college student in Boston in 1988, and it played the city's arthouses for six months. Months-long runs for his films continue to be the norm.
If there's any calculation behind this success, Almodóvar doesn't want to talk about it. "It's a mystery," he says. "I'm very glad it happened." He points out that the films he made before Women on the Verge saw little commercial acceptance in the U.S., and he complains that "the American market is very protectionist and gives little opportunity to foreign-language films. Only 2 percent of the films playing in America are foreign-language. In France, Spain and Italy, 80 to 85 percent of the screens are showing American films."
If I'm So Excited!'s attempts at recapturing the comic zest of Almodóvar's '80s films are sometimes a bit strained, the film is always a delight to look at, with the director's characteristic lush use of color. Almodóvar acted as the de facto production designer. "Obviously, I employ someone to help with my vision," he says, "but the color schemes of the plane, the seats, and the hallways were my decision. In Spain, we don't actually have a production designer, someone who decides what the look of the film should be. So I take over that spot as part of my being a director."
In addition to the movie about Spain's economic woes, Almodóvar has one other card up his sleeve. He's depicted gay men and transsexuals, but lesbians have rarely appeared in his films. One of his upcoming scripts will change that. As he says, "It's not the main theme of the movie, but there are two lesbian protagonists. In Spain, gay men have a lot of visibility in ways that lesbians don't have. It's much more difficult to be openly lesbian than gay. There remains a lot of machismo. It's definitely a topic I want to touch on." For a filmmaker who's often seemed like a descendant of George Cukor and Douglas Sirk, but with the ability to touch on queer subject matter that they couldn't, it's an intriguing proposition.
"I feel nostalgic for my youth. Spain was very different then. The whole world has changed for the worse."Follow @VoiceFilmClub
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