‘Silencio’: Pedro Almodóvar is filming

Spanish filmmaker discusses his new movie, a drama about leaving loved ones behind

Pedro Almodóvar with actress Emma Suárez before the filming of 'Silencio'.
Pedro Almodóvar with actress Emma Suárez before the filming of 'Silencio'.EL DESEO

“A woman makes her weary way down the streets of Madrid. She is walking kind of aimlessly, but in parts of the city that she is familiar with. She is looking for something, trying to get noticed…”.

Pedro Almodóvar outlines this quick sketch of the opening scene in his new movie, Silencio, which begins shooting on May 6.

The final production details are currently being hammered out at El Deseo, the filmmaker’s production company. This place, which has a faint Memphis air to it, is where all of Almodóvar’s movies have been concocted since the late 1980s.

This movie is not at all in the Manchego style, it is less Baroque, with fewer options for humor” Film director Pedro Almodóvar

For nearly 12 weeks after filming begins, the creator of All About My Mother, Talk to Her and Volver will give shape to his 20th feature film, which poses new challenges for the 65-year-old.

Although this ‟dark” drama focuses, like many of his other works, on the female universe, it is ‟not at all in the Manchego style, it is less Baroque, with fewer options for humor,” notes this authentic man from La Mancha, who was born in the village of Calzada de Calatrava.

The movie, which follows a character’s life from the 1980s to the present, features two actresses who have never been ‟Almodóvar Girls” before, Emma Suárez and Adriana Ugarte. Suárez plays the older Julieta, Ugarte the younger one.

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“I really don’t like those excessive makeup jobs to age or rejuvenate actors; I would rather use two different actors and play with the viewer’s imagination,” explains the two-time Oscar winner.

Over the three decades spanned by the story, audiences will get to know the present and the past of a woman whose life is marked by pain, abandonment and several meaningful trips.

‟Meaningful because in each one of them she leaves behind someone or something that is important to her,” notes Almodóvar. ‟And chief among these is one fundamental act of abandonment: her teenage daughter, whom she leaves behind inexplicably, for no known reason. All of a sudden, someone who meant everything to you wants nothing more to do with you, just like that. The silence in the title is a reference to the mother’s silence first, and to the daughter’s silence later.”

The female cast also includes Inma Cuesta, Nathalie Poza, Michelle Jenner, Susi Sánchez, Pilar Castro, Mariam Bachir, the young Blanca Parés and Rossy de Palma, the only veteran with several Almodóvar movies under her belt, including the arch-famous Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.

‟Some faces are very familiar to TV audiences, but I hardly ever watch television, so all I can say is that they convinced me through their auditions. Some, like Nathalie Poza, I’d been meaning to work with for a long time, and after seeing her work in the play Berlín, I couldn’t wait any longer.”

The male characters, who carry less weight in the story, are played by Daniel Grao, Darío Grandinetti and Joaquín Notario.

But Silencio will not only feature new faces. The landscape will be different as well. After that initial, obsessive walk through Madrid, Almodóvar will radically change his regular movie setting – the plains of Castilla – for the rolling hills of Galicia and the mountains of Huelva and the Pyrenees.

“The landscapes will be at once a metaphor and a character; distance takes on added meaning here,” says the filmmaker, talking about the physical and emotional journeys between the north and south of Spain.

“I’d had this story on the back burner since 2011. I dropped it for a while, but now it’s back and flourishing. Perhaps this is not the best time to shoot a movie that requires so much moving around; perhaps this would have been the time for a studio movie. But this is the one that appealed to me more strongly,” he confesses.

Almodóvar, who talks about his scripts as though they were living embryos vying with one another to come out of the drawer, is making a sideways reference to the long resting period of over a year that followed his complex back surgery. With physical rehabilitation sessions still underway, he admits that during the worst of it he even considered quitting his career.

I really don’t like those excessive makeup jobs to age or rejuvenate actors; I would rather use two different actors and play with the viewer’s imagination”

‟It occurred to me to do that thing that’s all the rage now: reinventing myself,” he says. ‟I thought of devoting myself to writing; I tried to see myself as a teller of vital experiences, a travel journalist, a novelist. Physically I felt incapable of making another movie. The surgery caused me a lot more insecurity than what I already have naturally. But for better or for worse, I realized that I would be no good at anything else. I want to keep making movies; it is a relief and a curse at the same time: whether I like it or not, that’s just the way it is.”

And so this latest deal with destiny is being gestated inside that living laboratory, El Deseo, where the cast and the members of the production, wardrobe and art direction teams all share the hallways with that air of confidentiality that anticipates every Almodóvar production.

Organic work

“Pedro’s work is highly organic; that is why it is hard to talk about the movie right now. We have a departure point, but we don’t know where we’re headed,” says his brother Agustín. Just having the final list of cast members is already a major achievement.

‟We spoke with Emma at the San Sebastián film festival, months ago already. But now we have everyone: 35 characters!” exclaims the producer.

At one point, the director is asked to make a choice between 10 possible shades of wall color and as many for the pavement, all with a view to that opening scene in which Emma Suárez is seen wandering through the streets of Madrid. It is just one more piece in the puzzle. Almodóvar talks about a palette of green, grey, smoke and terracotta tones.

‟But I know that Sonia [Grande, head of wardrobe] and Antxon [Gómez, art director] always throw in something red, because by now they know me well and will have an option that is more in keeping with my past,” says Almodóvar in reference to his highly colorful films of the past. ‟After all, as I like to say, no matter how much self-restraint I exercise, a leopard does not change its spots.”

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