Q&A: Pedro Almodovar on “I’m So Excited!”

Q&A: Pedro Almodovar on “I’m So Excited!”
Pedro Almodovar at Girard-Perregaux and The Cinema Society with DeLeón's screening of "I'm So Excited!"
(Paul Bruinooge/patrickcmullan.com)

“We are frightened of what is happening,” filmmaker Pedro Almodovar said about Spain’s current economic crisis. “We need an emergency landing. We also are travelling without knowing exactly where we will find the right place to land.”

While he was talking about the economy, he was also describing his outrageous new farce, “I’m So Excited!” in which passengers trapped on a damaged plane party like there’s no tomorrow.

Spain’s unemployment rate sits at a record 27 percent while the economy continues to contract, prompting many Spaniards, like the characters in the movie, to worry about their own tomorrow.

In the years following Francisco Franco’s death, the country was busy playing catch up with free Europe. The decades-long fascist regime produced little art of any significance and few filmmakers of international renown. Almodovar, with his wit, poignancy, and bawdy sense of humor, symbolized a new era of passion, openness, and tolerance in Spanish cinema.

“I’m So Excited!” represents his return to his comedic roots in the ’80s, which led to titles like “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” “High Heels,” and the classic “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.”

In a recent roundtable with journalists, Almodovar spoke about sex and death, Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz, and writing on planes.

“I’m So Excited!” reunited with two of your biggest stars, Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz. How have they changed over the years?

As an actress, I actually might say that she has not changed that much. She has something great, especially in comedy, and she hasn’t been exploited as much as she could be in comedy. But particularly in that mix between comedy and drama, she has a very special quality about her. You can really place her in very extreme situations, especially very painful situations. Sometimes the deeper and more human that pain is, the better she is at it. Fortunately she continues to be a gorgeous woman. The camera loves her, and me too. Antonio, of course, started with me and the kinds of characters that he played, that we did together in the ’80s were these very crazy characters mostly determined by their passion. In their relationship with me, they didn’t change. They belong to my emotional family.

As with so many of your movies, this one addresses the twin themes of sex and death.

I think sex, like death, are eternal themes. Sex is one of the only things that our nature gave us for free. So it is very important to celebrate it. I try to think about these two issues very freely. With sex, I think I can manage with that. With death, this is a thing more difficult for me. I’m not a believer. Even though I was baptized, I don’t practice. So I don’t believe in God. So I feel really very alone facing death. When I made “Matador,” I tried to discover myself dealing with this theme. And what I discovered is that the only way for me to recognize death is just if you were part of life, if you were part of sexual pleasure, linked with sexual pleasure. But I feel like a child. I cannot really understand why the cycle is like it is.

It appears you set out to make a supercilious movie, but it seems there are some ideas about the crisis in Spain under the surface.

In this movie, there is a metaphor about Spanish society that you don’t need to see it, but it’s there. That fear and uncertainty are both feelings that I experience in my country and I think it represents the Spanish society. But like I said before, it is not necessary the American audiences receive this message.

The movie has been described as a throw back to the beginning of your career.

It belongs more to the decade of ’80s, when I started making movies. I think I wanted to recover my youth or recover that expression of freedom that we experimented with in Spain and in Madrid after Franco died and the new democracy arrived. Really for me, at the end of the shooting, I realized it was a tribute that I made to that decade, the ’80s. Spain has changed a lot, for worse, for much worse now. The whole world has changed. But I think I missed that atmosphere that we lived in Madrid in the early ’80s.

I’m sure you spend a lot of time on planes. Is that what inspired you?

I’m a very dull passenger. I don’t speak. I don’t have sex. No alcohol and I don’t do drugs. So I’m a very dull passenger. Many ideas of my movies belong to this moment where I’m not in anywhere in time and space and geography. This suspension fits me very well. So I enjoy very much writing on planes.

As Spain’s preeminent filmmaker you’ve been compared to Luis Bunuel, and the new movie shares some similarities with his classic, “The Exterminating Angel.”

I don’t want to be compared with “Exterminating Angel” and with Bunuel because I’m a loser. By chance I saw again “Exterminating Angel” and I thought, oh my god! It’s incredible just to see again and again this kind of masterpiece. But I thought I’m working on a story that has things in common with that. It happens in one, unique place, the people can’t go out. It was a lot more interesting in Bunuel because they can’t go out and they don’t know why. My movie is less genius that they don’t because they are in a plane. That surprised me always when I discover something that I see in another movie for someone. For example, in both movies there is a virgin. In Bunuel’s movie it’s the character played by Sylvia Pinal. It is an unbelievable virgin because it is too spectacular, very desirable and also I knew about that movie that it was the wife of the producer. And in my movie also there was someone more believable, not so gorgeous. And also there is some surrealist level in the movie ’cause you don’t try to justify that they are there like that. So Bunuel, we belong to the same culture. We belong to the same family. I like to be compared with him because I think he was really one of the unique geniuses of the last century. I’m not. I’m not going to be for the rest of my life.

“I’m So Excited!” opens on June 28.