ALMODOVAR FROM LA MANCHA
Already designated as Spains official selection for Oscars consideration, Pedro Almodovars Volver is arguably this years most haunting and inspiring film about women.
In it, mothers and daughters, sisters and aunts, friends and neighbors gradually unveil all the mysterious secrets of their pasts and passionately embrace each other and the future.Of the inventively complex and highly entertaining plot, no more need be revealed except that Almodovars characters are, as always, brilliantly nuanced and astonishingly truthful, and that the places he creates begin to feel like home, even if youve never been there.
Volver, meaning to come back, is a title with many meanings. First, we shot in La Mancha, the place where I was born and lived my first eight years so Im coming back to my roots. I was very aware of this while we were shooting, and I encountered my mother not physically, but I strongly felt her presence, says Almodovar. Then, I returned to working with two important actresses in my life: Carmen Maura whod been my artistic soul mate for the first time since 18 years, and Penelope Cruz whose beauty, strength and vulnerability obsess me for the first time in seven years.
Volver is also the title of the song Penelope sings a song thats so important for her character and for the meaning of the film. And, it also indicates the passage of time and the return of the mother who, in a way, comes from the beyond.
MERIN: Were lucky eight Almodovar films have returned to NY in a retrospective of your work. Is there a through line from one film to the next that perhaps reflects your personal evolution?
ALMODOVAR: Yes, I think so. But, it comes unconsciously. I dont consciously select my stories they select me. Then, I fill them with my own experiences and, truly, as you say, my experiences as they change during my life, also change my films. But one important thing that doesnt change is I never judge my characters. I really give them everything they need and complete liberty to make choices they want in their lives. I look after them with compassion, love and care and thats the life they breathe within my films. Even if they commit crimes that are awful murder or anything the challenge for me as a writer is to explain them as human beings being in their humanity. This is also my way of living.
Youre absolutely right in what you said about my work in relation to myself. But its difficult to talk about that. I feel like sighing, because really its like talking about myself in a way Im not used to.
MERIN: Do you dream your characters?
ALMODOVAR: I dream a lot, but not exactly whats happening with the characters. Its mysterious, the way they appear and what happens to them. My work is similar to the work of a detective. When youve created a situation for a character, you have to ask how did this character get there, why, and hows he going to get out of it and this becomes the job of a detective. Its a weird way of working, because answers come little by little. The story develops as almost a process of sedimentation a series of layers slowly progresses within me as I write the story, and they add up.
MERIN: You make audiences into detectives, too, by giving us visual cues. Each shot presents information we receive almost subconsciously, and each time we see the film, we understand more. Howd you accomplish that?
ALMODOVAR: It all comes from where I put the camera, what I focus on, the colors I choose. Absolutely. You have to give clues you want audiences to know. And on my set, theres a lot of waiting while we decide what color we want the wall to be you have to be specific. I often work by instinct, like a painter would, making decisions based on intuition not necessarily intellectual decisions. But environmental colors should express a characters internal being, circumstances and mood.
I test a lot. I think certain colors will work and I do it that way and need to change it. Mostly, place determines coloration. In Volver, for example, theres a lot of black and white colors I dont normally include in my palette. That was precisely determined by place, by the austerity and severe conservatism of La Mancha.
MERIN: You also use music in addition to the title song as a narrative element, to advance the plot and elicit emotions .
ALMODOVAR: For me, music is the best element of narration. In my movies, it takes a very active part in the story, giving information about whats happening. Its dynamic. If the music stops, the story stops. But it must be used properly.
Fortunately, I always work with a wonderful composer, Alberto Iglesias I cant live without him. Without him, my movies would be very different. He knows everything about the script and he knows what I want for it so, working with him is the same as working with actors, entirely collaborative. Im as lucky with him as Fellini was with Nino Rota.
The music must be integrated into the story, not there to sell more CDs because thats one thing I hate, when songs included at the end of the movie arent related to whats happened in the movie and there just there to sell CDs.
MERIN: Do you write all the visual and audio elements into your screenplays? Do your scripts change while youre shooting?
ALMODOVAR: I take seven or eight years to write a script, so my screenplays are ironclad. But on set, at the unique moment when actors, set décor, cameras come together for the first time at that very moment that Ive never lived before, sometimes I get new ideas and add things. When I write the script and while were rehearsing, I develop a lot of different possibilities, so I know characters by heart and can improvise at the last minute. I allow myself and the actors to be very fresh and alive. I really adapt everything to the moment were shooting. To shoot a movie is something completely alive, and you have to make sure it stays that way. (Published in New York Press)