l i l l i i
If the shoe ﬁts
Pedro Almodovar’s films have graduated from the cult to the mainstream, winning fans amongst critics and audiences, if not censors. Nigel Floyd went to Madrid to talk to the Spanish director about his new film, High Heels.
‘My films are political .' says Pedro Almodovar, ‘in the sense that I always defend the autonomy and absolute freedom of the individual — which is very dangerous to some people.‘ Repressive societies, he believes. are preoccupied with the suppression ofpassion because it creates disequilibrium. His reaction is to celebrate the pursuit of individual. anarchic desire. The burly director‘s philosophy has been evident throughout his career, from his
early, John Waters-influenced underground films.
through those subsidised by the Spanish Ministry ofCulture in the mid-80$, to the later, box-office record-breaking, frothy comedies.
His latest film. High Heels, returns to the familiar territory of modern Spanish popular culture with its kitsch aesthetic, media-fed madness and legacy ofCatholic guilt. Almodévar himself decribes High Heels as ‘a slightly serious comedy'. but it remains to be seen whether this move into more serious drama will mark a bold shift of direction or his first false step.
The central scene of the movie has TV newsreader Rebecca (Victoria Abril) confess live on air to the murder of her husband, Manuel. The scene is a comic and dramatic tour deforce. partly because we are unsure whether Rebecca is telling the truth, lying to protect someone else, or simply confessing out of some obscure, misplaced sense of guilt. lts ambiguities are reinforced by a subtle slide from black comedy (her words are translated by a signer for the deaf) into dark, harrowing drama.
When Rebecca is later imprisoned, her mother tries to console her by dedicating a sentimental song to her during a live performance on the radio. It is a moving scene. yet our emotional
engagement is undermined by a suspicion that even this moment ofnaked emotion is. for Becky (Marisa Paredes). also a coup de theatre. Almodévar‘s explanation of the scene is revealing. echoing a crucial moment in his volatile relationship with his former leading lady. (‘armen Maura. Having acted in six of Almodévar's films. Maura‘s name had become synonymous with the director‘s. Then. after Women on the Verge. they had a bitter falling out. leaving Almodt’war to make his own showy gesture of reconciliation.
‘I don‘t know ifit‘s sincere. or if it is an imitation oflife,‘ he says. ‘It’s a gesture. and like any gesture it‘s artificial; but it also has a very deep meaning. Anything you do on the stage becomes a spectacle. I have done a lot ofwork on stage’ — he was once a member ofa glam-punk band that he has described as ‘a cross between Bette Davis. Divine and the New York Dolls‘ — ‘and any artist who comes on the stage is quite aware that everything he is doing becomes part of the show. although that doesn‘t mean that you‘re not sincere. These gestures can come from deep inside you, although
the show is also built upon them.
‘1‘“ give you a very precise example. Two years ago. I was giving a prize at the Goya ceremony in Spain — the Goyas are like the Oscars. or the BAFI‘As in Britain — and I took advantage of the occasion to make a gesture of reconciliation to Caran Maura. She was the hostess of the show and when I came on to the stage. I said a lot of things to her in front ofall the people. I gave her a piece of the Berlin Wall and I said. ‘If a wall as solid as Berlin‘s can fall. I hope the wall between us can fall too.‘ And at the end. a lot of people asked me. “Was that a show. or was it sincere?“ But it was both. I really wanted to tell that to Carmen. but I also knew. when 1 got up on the stage that. man. would it work!‘
Now 40 years old. Spain‘s most celebrated contemporary filmmaker is so popular at home, and so féted abroad. that his films are sold on the strength of his trademark signature. ‘Almodévar’. ‘lt‘s true that it‘s always been very difficult to classify my movies.‘ he says with a wry grin. ‘but now they are showing in the mainstream cinemas in Spain and the foreign distribution is much bigger. they‘re trying to put a name to what I'm doing. With High Heels. as always. I mix genres. ()ne Spanish critic. I think. defined the genre very precisely when he said: “It's not just melodrama, it‘s the way Almodévar looks at the melodrama. So it‘s not a melodrama. it‘s an Almodrama." ‘
High Heels opens at the Edinburgh (.‘ameo on Fri 3 April and at the Glasgow Film Theatre on Sun 5 April. A special List/ Cameo preview screening. free to those bringing along this (‘opy of The List (171). will take place at 1.30pm g»-
on Sat 28 March at ,
the (amen. ‘ ”
THE FILMS 0F PEDRO ALMODOVAR
I Dark Habits (Entre Tlnieblas) (1983) Drug trouble forces a nightclub singer into the dubious safety of the Convent of Humble Redeemers. Occasionally
Highlight: the sensational Carmen Maura as the director’s sex-changed brother, now a lesbian, having to deal with her lover‘s very forward teenage
drug-spiked gazpacho or the airport shoot-out.
slow, but wonderfully irreverent and packed with Catholic kitsch. Highlight: a bunch of nuns revelling in the names Sister Hat (bonkbuster novelist), Sister Shit (LSD freak) and Sister Sin (tiger wrestler).
I What Have I Done To Deserve This? (fine He Hecho Yo Para Merecer Esto?) (1984) Absurdist life in a Spanish apartment inhabited by Gloria (Carmen Maura), her pimping, taxi-driving husband, teenage drug-dealing sons. mother-in-law and pet lizard. Highlight: Gloria's indifferent attitude to being asked to sit in on her prostitute
Lneighbour's kinky sessions.
I Matador (1985) Luscious concoction of death and desire centring on a former maestro who jerks off watching horrorlilm murders, a homicidal lady lawyer, and a trainee bullflgher who turns himself in for a rape he couldn’t commit in orderto prove his manhood. Highlight: lawyer stabs matador with hat-pin at moment of sexual climax before shooting herself in erotic finale. I Law of Desire (La Ley del Deseo) (1987) Steamy tragi-comedy with typically sleazy approach to murder and melodrama. Homosexual ménage a trots brings love and death in equal measures to a famous filmmaker.
I Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Muieres Al Borde de un Ataque de Nervios) (1988) Oscar nominated for Best Foreign Film, this frothy farce brought Almoddvar the international acclaim that had always been around the corner. Highlight: take your pick from Shi'ite terrorists,
I Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (Atamel) (1990) A darkly comic tale of a soft porn actress (Victoria Abril) and the men who want to control her— a good-natured, wheelchair-bound director and an obsessive, recently released from a psychiatric hostel, who eventually kidnaps her and performs rope tricks along the lines of the tltle. Highlight: forcing the American censors to introduce a new N017 rating to cover ‘serious adult dramas’.
12 The List 27 March — 9 April 1992