Pedro Almodóvar Talks New Film Julieta and Partying in the '80s

Pedro Almodóvar Talks New Film Julieta and Partying in the '80s

The Famously Eccentric Director Makes A Move Towards Subtlety In His Latest Tour-De-Force

The Famously Eccentric Director Makes A Move Towards Subtlety In His Latest Tour-De-Force

Text: LUIS VENEGAS

The most popular Spanish director of all time, whose stellar credits include Women on the Verge of a Nervous BreakdownTie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, and, most recently, 2013’s I’m So Excited!, has a new movie out this year—an occasion celebrated by his legion of adoring fans. And Pedro Almodóvar’s fans are extra lucky, because Julieta is easily one of his best works. It’s extremely contained, and coming from someone as exuberant as Almodóvar, that’s a remarkable novelty. The director and I sat down in his production studio in Madrid to discuss this surprisingly refreshing new path.

LUIS VENEGAS Julieta is the best film I’ve seen recently. It begins with an almost habitual phrase: “Voy a contarte todo lo que no tuve ocasión de contarte.” The theme of secrets, or things that are not said, is very consistent in your films.

PEDRO ALMODÓVAR This film was going to be called Silencio. A lot remains silent in the character, Julieta’s, life. And silences are lethal in relationships. This movie made me think about some of my own “silences.”

LV Do you have any secrets that you’ve never told anyone, or something that you wish you had told someone?

PA Absolutely.

LV How do you resolve that?

PA It’s difficult to resolve, especially when it’s been a long time and has instilled a reality in which the secret has damaged the relationship. In my relationships, I should have expressed more, especially earlier in my life. But it’s part of my character. At the same time, I am socially very expressive and chatty, but in private I am much more airtight.

LV These silences make Julieta a very mysterious film. The performances of the two leads, Emma Suárez and Adriana Ugarte, are excellent.

PA They’re essential. These two actresses are new to me, but Emma has a long career behind her. Adriana had been seen very little, but it was very clear from the beginning that her features corresponded with what I was looking for on paper. I worked a lot with both of them. My films are not based on visual effects or a lot of action; the main tool I use to tell stories is the faces of the actors. I place a lot of importance on this and dedicate half the time of shooting to developing their performances.

LV In Spain, Emma Suárez has a huge cult following.

PA Since the early ’90s; she began her career as a teenager. Emma has an unusual physicality in Spanish cinema: really blonde, so thin, but with huge breasts. She looks more like an American.

LV I noticed that you include a few homages to film mythology. One of the characters, the sculptor Eva, seems like a tribute to Ava Gardner. Rossy de Palma’s character is like Mrs. Danvers from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca.

PA Totally. Visually, I was inspired by Judith Anderson in Rebecca, who is one of my favorite screen characters. I also saw a picture by Annie Leibovitz of her mother, who has that kind of short, curly hair; it’s beautiful. That’s the inspiration I gave to the hairdressers. It transformed Rossy. She’s an icon with a splendid career, but she’s odd and almost a cartoonish actress, and I wanted to avoid humor at all times.

LV Would you say that Julieta is your most subdued movie?

PA Yes, absolutely. That was the first intention I had.

LV Are you at a point in your life when you feel you need to contain yourself, or was it necessitated by the story?

PA The story asked it of me. This film is also a product of my current age, and I don’t think I could have done it before now. I feel the weight of my age in the style of things I’m dealing with. Lifestyle influences, of course—because now I live a life that is almost the opposite of the one I lived in the ’80s—are reflected in the film.

LV How do you compare your life then with your life now?

PA People saw me as someone who was partying nonstop in the ’80s. I love to remember that time. I think I’m the same, but I don’t have that life at all anymore. It just so happens that none of that is possible now.

LV You’re a public figure now, probably the most popular Spanish figure in the world.

PA It would be a never-ending scandal. [laughs] But also, I couldn’t work. I haven’t played with any artificial stimulants in a long time. Even in the ’80s, I always left at a certain time. People would say, “You’re leaving already?” But I would have to, because the next day I had things on top of things to do, whether it was making phone calls or Super 8 films.

LV See, you’ve always been very responsible.

PA My vocation saved me, I think, because I’ve been surrounded by chasms, like everyone in my generation. Chasms that are people. The fact that I wanted to do something the next day saved me. It’s been like this from the first moment of my adolescence, in an ironclad way.

LV Now that Martin Scorsese has made Vinyl, David Lynch is returning to Twin Peaks, and Woody Allen is shooting a TV series, would you ever be tempted to tell stories in an episodic format?

PA For me, as a storyteller, I prefer to address a block of time according to the terms with which film is approached: an hour and a half to two hours. But serial narration does allow you to create a depth in the characters that film does not allow. Julieta, with everything that does not appear in the film, could have been a book. Or you could have made a series of five chapters, say, an hour each, and you could have gotten the characters to contemplate the story in all its magnitude. I have an idea for a story about gender, done in my own way, about making replicants, like Blade Runner. They’re replicants gone wrong and, in many cases, they become funny appliances. I imagine it as a comedy, thinking of some of my favorite Spanish actresses. But I’m in no hurry. I think there is a whole new wave of movies about this, like Ex Machina. I better go register this idea!

LV You always talk about Spanish actresses, but the biggest American movie stars have also said they would love to work with you.

PA I was going to give the lead role of Julieta to a non-Spanish actress, because initially I was going to shoot it in the U.S., but at the last moment, I was afraid. I often travel to New York and spend a month there doing promotion, but I don’t know how to go to a hairdresser, how to go to the bakery…I don’t know the details about other cultures that aren’t Spanish. I do know enough English to speak and deepen the characters, and I do dream of directing some of the actresses who say that they like me. I’m not crazy about the idea of doing a Hollywood blockbuster, though. It would be ideal to find a story spoken in English, but that takes place in Madrid.

LV For someone who repeatedly conveys relationships between mothers and daughters, have you ever thought about having a child?

PA Yes, often. It seems too late, though. I would have done it 20 years ago with a surrogate. I have a bisexual past, and I remember that I was terrified of bringing a child into the world at that time. From the age of 40 on, I have felt the opposite. But with the life I live, there is nothing that holds me in place more than being a movie director. And there is no profession more vampiric than this. It is not a life for sharing.

LV I have a question I’ve wanted to ask you for years, a question Rossy de Palma poses in Law of Desire: ¿qué es lo que más te chifla y lo que más te amuerma del amor?

PA Lo mismo. [laughs] Because love is so ambivalent. The fact that you lose control is so wonderful and terrible at the same time. When there is something greater than your personality, your plans, your character—when someone comes and crushes you—that’s healthy. Through destruction, there is clarity. I always advise that, when it comes to love, you must surrender. Not surprisingly, El Deseo is the name of my production company. There is no other vital fuel that can be compared with desire.

Ⓒ EL DESEO, D.A., S.L.U. PHOTOGRAPHY BY MANLOL PAVON.
Ⓒ EL DESEO, D.A., S.L.U. PHOTOGRAPHY BY NICO BUSTOS.

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