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Sat June 22, 2013
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'I'm So Excited': Pedro Almodovar's Spanish Metaphor

Originally published on Sun June 23, 2013 7:29 am

Spanish director Pedro Almodovar's new film, which opens next weekend, is about a group of passengers stuck on an airplane. It's a comedy: In between panicking, the passengers find time to fall in love, make love — and come out of the closet.

I'm So Excited is also a return to the filmmaker's roots. In one scene, the flight attendants attempt to calm down passengers by serving them drinks spiked with mescaline. It's a nod to a scene in one of Almodovar's most celebrated films, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, in which police interrogate a woman in her home, then realize the gazpacho she served them is spiked with sleeping pills.

Women on the Verge catapulted Almodovar to international acclaim, something he never imagined. He says he never dreamed of becoming a famous director and winning awards; his dream was simply to become an underground director with a few friends.

That wasn't an easy dream for a young gay man living in Spain under the repressive regime of Francisco Franco. In the early 1970s, Almodovar shot one of his first shorts in the Spanish countryside, away from the government's watchful eye.

Almodovar's first full-length film came in 1980: Pepi, Luci, Bom Y Otras Chicas Del Monton (Pepi, Luci, Bom and Other Girls on the Heap). Spain had changed. Franco's death five years earlier led to an explosion of culture, music and art that celebrated sex, drugs and debauchery.

Despite critic's accusations that the films where trivial and hedonistic, Almodovar had plenty to say, says Isolina Ballesteros, who teaches Spanish literature and European film at Baruch College at City University of New York.

"From the start, his cinema was centered around transgression and the representation of marginalized protagonists such as women, homosexuals, transsexuals, drug addicts, psychopaths," she says. "But he was also doing this comic exposition of domestic violence, rape, incest, sadomasochism — and the subsequent subjection of female characters to them."

Almodovar never lost the camp, but moved to grimmer, darker themes. In 1999, his film All About My Mother addressed the AIDS epidemic and won an Oscar.

In one of the film's most recognizable scenes, a transgendered woman delivers a monologue about authenticity. She's listing the price of all the operations she's had: nose, breasts, eyes.

"When it comes to these things," she concludes, "you can't be cheap. You are more authentic the more you resemble what you've always dreamt of being."

Almodovar has managed to stay true to his own dream of being an underground director while also achieving mainstream success. In I'm So Excited — or Los Amores Pasajeros — his youthful goofiness is back. The passengers seem as worried about Spain's malfunctions as they are about their own plight: For years the country has been spiraling into an economic crisis punctuated by numerous corruption scandals.

Almodovar says that was the idea behind the stricken plane, circling, with no place to land. "When I wrote it, I tried to escape from reality," he says. "Everything happens among the clouds. The reality is on Earth ... but if you know how things are happening in Spain, about all the social problems we are having with this government, then for me this journey of these passengers, turning in circles, without knowing where they'll go ... this is like a metaphor of the Spanish society now."

Ballesteros agrees that Spain is headed for a crash landing — and Almodovar has a prescription for coping: Have fun, make love, and make amends to your loved ones.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. Coming up, the return of Jimmy Eat World.

But first, Spanish director Pedro Almodovar's new film opens next weekend. In English, it's called "I'm So Excited." It's about the passengers, pilots and flight attendants stuck on an airplane in distress. And, yes, it's a comedy. In between panicking, the passengers find time to fall in love, make love and come out of the closet. NPR's Jasmine Garsd reports that the movie is also a return to the filmmaker's roots.

JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: In Pedro Almodovar's new film, the flight attendants attempt to calm passengers down by serving them drinks spiked with mescaline. It's a nod to a scene in one of his most celebrated films. In "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown," police interrogate a woman in her home, then realize the gazpacho she served them is spiked with sleeping pills.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN")

GARSD: The film catapulted Almodovar to international acclaim, something he never imagined.

PEDRO ALMODOVAR: I never dreamed to become a famous director and to get awards and things like that. It was just to become like underground director with just a few friends who had seen his movies, and that was it.

GARSD: It was not an easy dream for a gay young man living in Spain under the repressive regime of Francisco Franco. In the early 1970s, Almodovar shot one of his first shorts in the Spanish countryside, away from the government's watchful eye.

ALMODOVAR: I bought with my first salary a Super 8 millimeter camera. And even under the Franco regime, my brothers and I, we went to the countryside were nobody could see us. If the police see us, they would take us to jail immediately. All of them were in drag.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ALMODOVAR: So they were very short, standard movies, but they were my first experience as a filmmaker.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GARSD: That's Spanish punk band Alaska y Los Pegamoides. The lead singer is a main character in Almodovar's first full-length film in 1980, "Pepi, Luci, Bom y Otras Chicas del Monton." Spain had changed. Franco's death five years earlier led to an explosion of culture, music and art that celebrated sex, drugs and debauchery.

Isolina Ballesteros teaches Spanish literature and European film at Baruch College at City University of New York. She says despite critics' accusations that the films where trivial and hedonistic, Almodovar had plenty to say.

ISOLINA BALLESTEROS: From the start, his cinema was centered on transgression and the representation of marginalized protagonists such as women, homosexuals, transsexuals, drug addicts, psychopaths. But he was also doing this comic exposition of domestic violence, rape, incest, sadomasochism and the subsequent subjection of female characters to them.

GARSD: Almodovar never lost the camp but moved to grimmer, darker themes. In 1999, the film "All about My Mother" addressed the AIDS epidemic and won an Oscar.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER")

GARSD: In one of the film's most recognizable scenes, a transgendered woman delivers a monologue about authenticity.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER")

GARSD: She's listing the price of all of the operations she's had: nose, breasts, eyes. When it comes to these things, she concludes, you can't be cheap. You are more authentic the more you resemble what you've always dreamt of being. Almodovar has managed to stay true to his own dream of being an underground director, while also achieving mainstream success.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "I'M SO EXCITED")

GARSD: In his most recent film, "I'm So Excited," or "Los Amores Pasajeros," his youthful goofiness is back. In this scene, a man wakes up from his nap to an overly earnest fellow passenger who cheerfully announces the plane will either crash or break in half when it lands.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "I'M SO EXCITED")

GARSD: But the passengers seem as worried about Spain's malfunctions as they are about their own plight. For years, the country has been spiraling into an economic crisis punctuated by numerous corruption scandals. Almodovar says that was the idea behind the stricken plane, circling, with no place to land.

ALMODOVAR: When I wrote it, I tried to escape from reality. Everything happens among the clouds, so the reality is on Earth. I mean, if you know how things are happening in Spain, then, I mean, for me, this passenger just turning on circles without knowing where they'll go, this is like a metaphor on the Spanish society now.

GARSD: According to Professor Ballesteros, Spain is headed for a crash landing and Almodovar has a prescription for coping.

BALLESTEROS: It's as if Almodovar is saying, what else can be done to evade this ugly reality? Well, perform, have sex, make amend with loved ones. In other words, have fun.

GARSD: A prescription for all of us. Jasmine Garsd, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.