He started out as a comedy director and comedy is where he has always felt at home. But life and advancing years have dragged him down increasingly darker paths. For quite a while now, Pedro Almodóvar has been needing to cool down and lighten up, to check he hasn’t lost his capacity for humor and laughter. Now, with I’m So Excited, he has finally done so. The Manchegan director’s new film, out in Spain next Friday, marks his return to pure comedy, with none of the mixing of genres that has been his stamp for so long and now doesn’t surprise anyone — not even his English-speaking fans.
His last foray into the genre was 25 years ago, with Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. “Humor has always been very important in my films, even in movies such as The Flower of My Secret, a tragic story of desperation and pain, though with the exception of my last one, The Skin I Live In,” he says.
I’m So Excited is an ensemble piece featuring three masters of ceremonies — Carlos Areces, Javier Cámara and Raúl Arévalo — surrounded by a mouthwatering cast that includes Antonio de la Torre, Cecilia Roth, Lola Dueñas, Hugo Silva, Miguel Ángel Silvestre, Guillermo Toledo, Blanca Suárez and José María Yazpik. It is set in the skies above Toledo, in the cabin of an airplane as a group of colorful characters face peril on a flight to Mexico City. Their feelings of helplessness as they confront the idea of dying in a confined space — 80 percent of the movie was filmed on interior sets — prompt a cathartic outpouring of confessions.
“Comedy is more fragile than other genres,” he says. “For me as a director it demands a lot more precision than a torrid drama. Above all, I needed a very rigid script because, although it seems that everything is possible and even more so in a comedy as ridiculous and frenzied as this, the reality is that not everything fits.”
At 63, Almodóvar has, without a doubt, made his wildest comedy yet. “I’ve really enjoyed testing the fact that it worked the same as before. I’ve felt just as light-hearted about comedy and humor as 30 years ago. I didn’t have the feeling that time had passed, except for one thing. If I had been younger, I would have left in more things, and now I have been polishing everything, with the obsession of making it shorter, so that it didn’t run over 90 minutes. I didn’t give in to the wishes of the actors, who wanted us to leave everything in. You lose things physically over the years, but I have proved that my ability to improvise and create humor is identical to how it worked in the 80s. It was nice for me to revisit that terrain.”
Sex and death: an explosive cocktail, and even more so in the confines of an airplane. On board we find a virgin who really wants to stop being one; a bride and groom on their wedding night; a gay couple; another who lusts after a man who doesn’t reciprocate his feelings, but imagines sex with him; as well as someone else looking for new sensations. “In the middle of the fear and the uncertainty and the death, I’ve sought to celebrate the physical, the sexual. My intention was: ‘Guys, here, with these bodies, nobody can take our pleasure away from us,’ and so the whole film is a celebration of the erotic, of the senses. It is not a romantic celebration of love, but one of sexual pleasure as one of the greatest gifts that nature has given us.”
I’m So Excited features Almodóvar’s biggest ensemble cast. “I felt comfortable, but I have to thank the actors for that because the worst thing for them in such an ensemble piece is that they always have to be there, almost as if they sometimes formed part of the set,” the director says, adding that he is always trying to find new faces. “It’s not just about discovering them, but also about working with new people. It’s very exciting and rewarding. I would like to work with all of them again and I’m sure I will. New things are always stimulating. You learn a lot, and even more so for me given that my life is so isolated. I immediately enter into all those universes that are so different from mine.”
It’s also a moral comedy, one that features touches of tragedy, misfortune and troubled reality; it references fraudsters, unscrupulous bankers and flashy airports with no planes or passengers: “We are starting to find out a lot about fraud and corruption in this country,” Almodóvar says. “Evidently some of those characters are clearly inspired by reality, but when we finished the script three years ago the whole Bankia scandal hadn’t appeared, for example, even though we already knew enough about what was happening in the savings banks.”
For that reason, Almodóvar thinks I’m So Excited has become even more of a metaphor since it was shot. “It’s a little pretentious to say it, but I think the film is better now because of everything surrounding us. Now it has more lessons than when we shot it, things that evidently were not in my head because they were not happening and they are all those things that we have been experiencing in the last three weeks.”