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Pedro Almodóvar returns to comedy, but he’s still angry about politics

June 26, 2013

Slate

NEW YORK — “I’m So Excited,” Pedro Almodóvar’s 19th feature film, is a comedy about a plane that may be about to crash. As the pilots try to find a way to land safely — and to enjoy sex and drugs — the crew sedates the economy-class passengers, performs karaoke, and distributes mind-altering substances to the first-class passengers, who include corrupt bankers, high-class prostitutes, famous actors and hit men. Slate’s June Thomas spoke with Almodóvar about the film, what it says about Spain’s terrible economic situation, and whether he’ll ever make a Hollywood movie.

JT: This is your first full-on comedy for a long time, perhaps since 1988’s “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.” Given that there’s a serious financial crisis in Spain right now, it’s surprising to me that you decided to make a comedy.

PA: The truth is that when I began to write the script, we didn’t yet know that we were going to hit this crisis. But when I was rewriting — and for me writing a script means rewriting it many times — we were already drowning in it. I like the idea that in these terrible times, Spaniards can go to the movies, see this film, and laugh for an hour and a half. In Spain right now, it’s very difficult to turn the current situation into comedy, although a few comedians are trying. I think that this is the worst moment that we have experienced since the arrival of democracy in Spain.

In this film, you deal with corrupt bankers and wasteful construction projects like the Ciudad Real airport that have almost bankrupted Spain. Why did you choose to make a political film now?

I think my films are always political, even if I don’t put explicitly political things in them. The moral autonomy that my characters have — specifically the female characters — is political. In this case, just mentioning the airport in La Mancha — that speaks in a very immediate way about the situation in Spain. (The real airport is Ciudad Real, but they told me not to use that name.) The construction of an airport like this and of other places — useless conference centers and convention halls that are completely worthless; there were a lot of them — is responsible for the crisis. So, visually, the airport is a very powerful metaphor for the banks’ abuse. It speaks to the megalomania of it all. The corruption of politicians, along with the unscrupulous financiers who signed contracts and found funds to create these white elephants.

I’m a little concerned if the movie can survive without all those references, because I can understand that, for example, American audiences don’t know exactly what is happening in Spain. I hope that the movie can overcome that and just be funny, even if viewers don’t know what is happening in my country.

I think of you as the great filmmaker of repetition. You return again and again to the same themes — sometimes even to the same scenes — without it seeming repetitive. Do you agree?

Yes, yes. Absolutely. I return to the same things, but I return in a different way every time, because in every moment of your life, you see things differently, or you have different things to say. You can make a thousand different movies about the same subject. For example, in one of the scripts that I’ll probably do next, the protagonists are mostly women, and it’s all about motherhood. I’ve made many movies in which the characters have been mothers, but I still have a feeling that this is different, because the stories that I’m going to tell are different. Am I repeating? It doesn’t seem that way to me. And I’m sure that it will be very different from the other mothers. These themes are quite eternal.

At the beginning of this film, the crew puts all the people in economy class to sleep. The film takes place in first class. That’s an interesting switch from your early focus on working-class people.

I am in solidarity with the tourist class. The pilots say, “Let’s drug the tourist class, then they won’t complain, and we won’t have any problems.” That’s an abuse of power. But this is also a comedy, so they’re omnisexual, and at least it’s amusing.

It’s also social commentary that the middle class is unconscious.

Yes, in Spain now, while the whole population are victims of the kind of government we have, they absolutely killed the middle class, and that’s why the economic problems are getting worse and worse. The middle class is the class that consumes, and now they’re unemployed. But my intention from the beginning was to make something unreal. Of course, reality seeps in through the cracks, and it’s always welcome, but I tried to put the story up in the clouds in a very unreal place.

 

Stevens (@thehighsign) is Slate’s film critic.

© 2013, Slate

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