Pedro Almodóvar at Film Society with his new film I'm So Excited! Photo: Philip May
Pedro Almodóvar has been a Film Society mainstay since the 80s, when the filmmaker first brought What Have I Done to Deserve This? to New Directors/New Films in 1984. Since then, he's graced the New York Film Festival with films like Oscar winners Talk to Her (NYFF '02) and All About My Mother (NYFF '99).
Along the way, he's become Spain's (indeed, one of the world's) most famous directors and has presented a diverse string of features from dark dramas such as his last film, The Skin I Live In (NYFF '11), to moody romance thriller Broken Embraces (NYFF '09) and sexual abuse drama Bad Education (NYFF '04). This century, Almodóvar has manifested comedy, a platform that helped establish his filmmaking fame back in the 80s, with heavy infusions of the twisted and, at times, downright bleak. His latest, I'm So Excited, is on the surface an about face for the filmmaker, who nevertheless readily admits to currently viewing the world through a dark prism.
"I wanted to return to a genre that I was very familiar with in the 80s," Almodóvar said after screening of I'm So Excited at the Walter Reade Theater on Tuesday. "I wanted to make a comedy at the time I wrote the script. It's, of course, wonderful to hear people laughing and that it's casual."
Arguably his most obvious embrace of comedy since Women On the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (NYFF '88), I'm So Excited is a feature-length bonanza in high camp—30,000 feet high above the ground, to be precise.
A scene from I'm So Excited!
Set in an airplane traveling from Spain to Mexico, a technical failure causes Peninsula flight 2549 to circle in a holding pattern, while officials down on the ground struggle to find an airstrip that can accommodate their emergency landing. To thwart passenger anxiety, the packed economy class is given a sedative that renders them virtually unconscious, while Business Class is cared for by a trio of high-strung, flamboyant flight attendants who attempt to alleviate passengers' (and their own) anxieties via a mixed bag of boozing and pill popping. As word spreads among the Business Class passengers of the potential disaster that looms, their own personal problems also surface—each representing a segment of society on the whole—including a financier and embezzler, a pair of newlywed partygoers, a diva of the gossip magazines, a virginal psychic and an underworld Mexican with a frightening secret.
"The problems of Spain appear in the film," Almodóvar told FilmLinc Daily ahead of the screening. "For an American audience, though, they don't need to understand the metaphorical socio-economic and political situations that are particular to Spain in order to enjoy the movie or see what's going on."
Indeed, the screwball comedy solicited a steady stream of cackles Tuesday at Lincoln Center, and the societal ills that permeate are not necessarily particular to Spain. As the passengers accept their possible fate and their deepest secrets are revealed, the group downs copious amounts of booze and sexual tensions rise to a climax.
"It's a light comedy and discussion," noted Almodóvar. "And the discussion is mixed with a lot of alcohol and sex. Sex is a gift that our nature gave us. I think there's always a good time to celebrate sex. Sex is always is free and very democratic."
While Almodóvar's career and notoriety have continued to thrive, the same cannot be said about his native Spain. A scratch below the surface of the passengers and crews' antics exposes the downward spiral the once prosperous European Union member state enjoyed in the years following dictator Francisco Franco's death in the 70s, when the country embraced democracy and catapulted itself into the developed world. The 80s were an important launchpad for the country, generally, but also for Almodóvar himself, who fully embraced the country's so-called "La Movida Madrileña," a period marked by new prosperity and an embrace of self-expression, hedonism and taboos, including the use of recreational drugs, which marked the emergence of a new Spanish identity.
"When writing the script, I liked the idea of having a [look back] at the 80s," noted Almodóvar. "It was an important decade for me because it's when I started shooting, but it was also an important time for Spain… I have nostalgia for that period and my youth but also nostalgia for that time in Spain."
Richard Peña, Pedro Almodóvar, and Blanca Suarez on stage for a Q&A following the screening.
"[I'm So Excited] is really an homage to the 80s—years I spent in Madrid where my friends and I really did a lot of drugs," said Almodóvar point blank, who then added with a chuckle, "But I didn't drink."
While Almodóvar looks back affectionately at the go-go 80s, he did hint during the post-screening Q&A, moderated by retired Film Society Program Director Richard Peña, that not all was blissful. Calling Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown one of his "most successful films," he twice called the filming of the feature "hell," though he would only tease about why production caused him anguish.
"It was a total hell in shooting," he said. "I won't explain to you why." Then, like a gossip maven teasing a big reveal, he asked the audience with a grin, "Do you want me to tell you? No, I'm not going to tell you… It's somebody… No, I'm not going to tell you!"
Whatever drama unspooled during Women, the filmmaker appeared pleased with the outcome of I'm So Excited, appearing on stage at the Walter Reade Theater with three of the film's actors, Carlos Areces, Blanca Suarez (who also starred in The Skin I Live In) and Miguel Ángel Silvestre.
"If you make a drama, it doesn't mean that you're suffering," shared Almodóvar as the evening wound down. "It might mean that I'm happy, though that doesn't mean I'm sadistic. It's just being happy with the result of what you're doing. And when you make a comedy, it doesn't mean you're necessarily happy. But in this case, it's true."
Watch the full post-screening Q&A below: