The ain 'n Sliiain Once he was the king of kitsch, but PEDRO ALMODOVAR's international popularity has slipped. So where does he turn for
inspiration? A Ruth Rendell novel?
Words: Nigel Floyd
The cruel irony of Pedro Almtxlovar‘s career is that. as his films have become more mature and intelligent. so his popularity outside Spain has ebbed to an all- time low.
llis latest film. Live Flesh. is a case in point. A dark yet seriously funny study of desire. destiny. death. guilt and redemption. it deservedly achieved both critical and box-office success in his homeland. where its complex emotional relationships and multi- layered ironies — shot through with a keen sense of Spain’s troubled political and religious past — struck a chord.
In America. on the other hand. the audiences who made Women On The Verge ()f A Nervous Breakdown the most successful foreign-language film of I989 dismissed it as a minor work. Bemoaning the passing of the camp. kitsch enfan! terrible they had loved. myopic Stateside critics looked back nostalgically to frothy, farcical comedies such as Tie Me Up.’ Tie Me Down.’. implying that Almodovar’s best work might be behind him.
Based on a dark. twisted and very British crime novel by Ruth Rendell. Live Flesh certainly has a different source from past works. During a long pre- production period. however. Almodovar jettisoned everything except Rendell’s initial set-up. Imprisoned some years earlier for shooting a policeman who intervened in a noisy argument between himself and gun-wieldingjunky Elena (Francesco Neri). Victor (Liberto Rabal) emerges from jail and insinuates himself into the life of his wheelchair- bound victim. David (Javier Bardem) — now married. in a change from the book. to the reformed Elena.
‘At the beginning. I seriously thought about shooting the movie in England.’ admits the director, ‘because that atmosphere — the cold light. the cloudy weather — would have been good for the film, as it was for the novel. But in six years it changed completely. For example. in I992 I saw a programme about the Paralympics in Barcelona. and that gave me the idea that David was going to become a famous
‘If you behave badly at a certain period in your life, you have to accept responsibility for lt.’ Pedro Almodt’war
Fleshing it out: Pedro Almodbvar directs Live Flesh
wheelchair-basketball player. Although such decisions situated me very far from the original novel. they were all inspired by it.’
Unusually for an AImodévar film, the female characters in Live Flesh are more passive then their male counterparts. Elena, having given up drugs and married the crippled David out of guilt. now dedicates her time and money to supporting a local play group.
‘Elena’s behaviour is just as neurotic when she is being compulsiver charitable. as when she was a junky.’ insists Almodovar. ‘And that is not good. because if you behave badly at a certain period in your life. you have to accept responsibility for it. But the solution is not to go to the opposite extreme. I find something very sad about her: she is trapped by a guilt complex that prevents her from living, because guilt vampyrises you. All my life I will continue to fight against the guilt complex. because since I was a child they have tried to educate that into me. This is something that belongs very much to the Spanish culture, so it’s good to talk about it. and joke about it. but always to be against it.’
Live Flesh opens at the Glasgow Film Theatre and Edinburgh Filmhouse on Fri 15 May.
The column that lingers on the edge of the film sets.
DIRECTOR BILL FORSYTH is back behind the camera making the sequel to one of Scotland's best- loved movies, Gregory’s Girl. John Gordon Sinclair - interviewed this issue on page 8 — reprises the role of gangly Gregory in Gregory’s 2 Girls.
The film, described as 'part thriller, part romantic comedy', finds Gregory all grown up, but back at school as an English teacher. In class, he rants against capitalist corruption, but secretly dreams of romance. The women in his life this time round are music teacher Bel (Maria Doyle-Kennedy) and pupil Frances (Carly McKinnon). Frances enlists Gregory’s help when she uncovers strange goings-on at the factory of Fraser (Dougray Scott), an old school churn of Gregory's.
The film will be distributed in the UK by Film Four, and shoots for nine weeks in various Scottish locations.
GLASGOW IS ALSO the location for another Film Four movie currently in production. Playwright Anthony Neilson makes his directing debut with The Debt Collector. which stars Billy Connolly, Ken Stott, Francesca Annis and Small Faces' Ian Robertson. Stott plays a policeman obsessed with a successfully rehabilitated ex-criminal (Connolly), now married and hailed as a talented sculptor. The story has already drawn criticism for its closeness to the recent life of Jimmy Boyle.
'Each time I come back to Glasgow, I feel much more positive about the city,’ says Connolly, who found time during the shooting schedule to don a green and white scarf as Celtic won the league. It is really good to witness Glasgow giving so much tangible support to the film industry and the talented people based here.’
The Debt Collector, which also receives funding from Glasgow Film Fund, wraps at the end of May.
Back home: Bill Forsyth directs his first film since Being Human
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14—28 May 1998 THE usm