Pedro Almodóvar, Spain’s greatest living director, showed up at the Crosby Hotel in SoHo recently to promote his new film “I’m So Excited!” a sex farce that’s a throwback to his 1980’s comedies like “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” and “Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down.” Almodóvar has written and directed a disaster-comedy spoof that takes place almost entirely in the claustrophobic confines of a malfunctioning plane, where the passengers and crew are focused on two things: sex and death.
With his spikey grey hair and solid build, the Academy Award-winning director, who is affable and very funny, resembles a sort of cuddly punk Teddy bear. Almodóvar speaks English although he reverts to Spanish when he becomes passionate and excited, which is often, so a translator helped out for the director’s more complicated explanations.
The film is an orgy of sex, drugs and, in this case, disco music. The English title “I’m So Excited!” comes from the famous Pointer Sisters Song, which a trio of vampy male flight attendants (Javier Cámara, Carlos Areces, Raúl Arévalo) lip sync and dance to while distracting business class passengers from the very real possibility that they may die. In case that doesn’t work the stewards also spike their tequila with mescaline, a drink that Almodóvar told us really existed and was popular in the 1980’s as an aphrodisiac. The tourist class passengers don’t need these diversions since they’re drugged asleep to avoid “economy class syndrome,” a condition everyone can relate to.
The movie opens on a high note with cameos by Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas as airport workers whose negligence is responsible for the plane’s later technical problems.
Peninsula Flight 2549 is on route from Madrid to Mexico City with an eclectic and eccentric bunch of passengers. Besides the campy attendants there are the macho bi-sexual pilots (Hugo Silva and Antonio de la Torre), one who is cheating on his wife with one of the vampy attendants. There is also a jittery psychic (Lola Dueñas) who is also a virgin and is determined to lose her virginity by the end of the flight. Other awake passengers include sexually insatiable newlyweds (Miguel Ángel Silvestre and Laya Martí), a corrupt banker who wants to reconnect with an estranged daughter (José Luis Torrijo) and an actor (Guillermo Toledo), caught between two lovers on the ground, one of whom is played by Blanca Suárez, who appeared in “The Skin I Live In,” and who was also in Manhattan for the junket. Almodóvar’s longtime leading lady Cecilia Roth plays a notorious dominatrix with an impressive client list, and the mysterious man with a moustache (José María Yazpik) she falls for may be an assassin.
The film begins with a disclaimer that says nothing in the movie bears relation to reality, which of course means the opposite. Although the word “financial crisis” is never mentioned, the airplane that goes in circles but never goes anywhere and has problems landing sounds like a metaphor for Spain’s current political, social and economic state.
Here are some edited highlights from the press conference for “I’m So Excited!”:
Why did you go with “I’m So Excited!” for the American title?
Pedro Almodóvar: I’m so excited has another meaning in Spain, and I can talk like a machine. It implies an emphasis on sexual arousal. Being excited means being horny so welcome to the party.
So the title has a different meaning from the Spanish title “Los amantes pasajeros”?
In Spanish, it’s a double meaning. Almost everything has more than one meaning depending on the face you put and the context and the tone but in this case passenger means someone who is traveling but also something that is fleeting. It was very important to have two meanings. In French, they have the double meaning and in Italian too but not in English. In English, it doesn’t work.
How does the song fit into your life? Does it have any particular significance?
I like it. I love it. I knew when I was young that I loved them. It’s good, disco music. It was the perfect song for them, for the stewards. At the beginning, unconsciously, this movie I didn’t realize that it’s a kind of tribute to the 80’s in Spain. That decade that we found had absolute freedom in every sense because Franco died five years before and there was a new democracy, everything changed for the best. I miss that feeling. I was young and I could enjoy that moment very deeply.
The film resembles sex farces of the 60’s and 70’s where sex in movies was more light-hearted. It’s also an interesting time now for homosexuality, especially shown here in the film where people are being a lot more open and free to be who they are. Can you talk about that?
It’s true that homosexuality at this point in Spain, especially male homosexuality, is quite visible in all the strata of society except for politicians, sportsmen and bullfighters. They have not (come out). I don’t know what kind of species (they are). Perhaps they are not human beings. And in the case of female homosexuality, which is a lot less visible, and I think it is really a remnant of the macho culture, it’s a lot more difficult for them to be openly gay, and despite the fact that gay marriage has been around now for over a decade. But I don’t think homophobia itself has entirely gone away.
Even in France, which is quite a liberal society, even there it’s not as Catholic as Spain is, but you’re having protests against gay marriage. For me it’s almost shocking to discover the extent of the homophobia in France right now.
And so in Spain, despite the law and despite how visible and how openly visible homosexuality is, there’s still the church, and the church very much speaks against homosexuality, now much more than five years ago. This is because the right wing party, who has been in control, has been giving the church more and more power, and there’s this archbishop who has been going around saying that homosexuality, especially male homosexuality, which I think is the only kind of homosexuality that he imagines exists, is not to be practiced. This is really crazy. Someone insane, a psychopath who believes that homosexuality will bring extermination of the species.
This movie is reminiscent of the films you made in the 80’s. Was that a conscious decision?
What is true is that this movie specifically is a kind of tribute to that period, the 80’s, because on one hand I was much younger perhaps and I wanted to recover my youth, but I also paid tribute to a period after Franco died, when we experienced a new democracy and it was a big explosion of freedom and this is what happens inside the plane. And (also) for me because Spain changed a lot since then, Madrid, particularly I think for the worse. I dedicated the film, without putting it in this movie, to the memory of the type of living we had in Madrid in the 80’s. But also the cocktail, Acqua de Valencia, which came from Valencia and was made with synthetic mescaline, was a very famous cocktail of the moment in the middle of the 80’s. It represents that period. I know what I was talking about with that. It was very liberating. It got you horny too. It was before ecstasy. Basically it was popular for two or three years, and the mescaline drink came from Valencia. That was true.
Is there a metaphor here where the plane represents Spain? It is having a rocky journey and like Spain cannot manage financially and all people want to do is sex, drugs and rock and roll and ignore the real world.
The film is really sort of built as an escape from reality. It takes place among the clouds, which is already connotes an unrealistic space … and as for these passengers, who are on a plane, beyond the fact that they are doing drugs, sex and rock and roll or in this case disco music, (what’s important) is that they’re circling, they’re circling around and they’re not going anywhere and they’re in danger and they’re going through a state of fear and they don’t know where and how they’re going to land, that all of this does speak in some way to what’s going on in Spain. For me it’s a direct metaphor for the Spanish situation. Empty airports exist. This is the result of financial and political corruption, and it’s empty. Nothing happens there. It’s crazy to think that in Spain that we have 17 airports in that condition. So when the Spanish see that airport, what they know by (reading) the papers because it was a big scandal, they go “Oh my God, we should be in crisis with these kinds of things.” But it is true I can understand that the American people don’t have this information, so what I hope is that the foreign (American) audiences can see the movie and find it entertaining and funny without realizing this aspect.
Would you make a movie in America? You were going to make “The Paperboy” weren’t you?
Yes I was working with that. I even had my own adaption to the movie. I was not completely happy. It needed a little more work. The script, it was very different from what Lee Daniels did, but I even started making locations in Jacksonville, but I recognized that I was scared because as I was walking through the swamps in Jacksonville there’s all this life, this teeming life underneath, these bugs, some of which bit me and I decided that place was just not for me.
I think this novel is a wonderful novel that demands a good adaptation. I don’t want to criticize anyone, of course, but let’s say that the cast, the whole cast, is completely a mistake, or is a complete mistake.