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High Flying Adored: Almodovar Flies The Friendly Skies

by Tony Phillips
Contributor
Tuesday Jul 23, 2013
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Timing is everything, but that hasn’t stopped Oscar-winning writer and director Pedro Almodovar from continuing to promote his latest airline disaster farce, "I’m So Excited," in spite of the recent Asiana plane crash at San Francisco International Airport. He and the cast also have some strong opinions about their own travel trials and tribulations.

"Death is one of those sensations you experience inside of the plane," the 63-year-old Spaniard shrugs undaunted, "but so is sex. Sexual desire is implicit in air travel, but this film is built as an escape from reality. It takes place among the clouds, which already connotes space, but movies are premonition. I have a theory that films don’t speak of the present, they speak of the future."

"And these passengers on the plane," Almodovar continues, "they are doing drugs, sex and rock and roll - or in this case, disco music - but what’s really happening is they’re circling around and not going anywhere. They’re in danger and going through a state of fear and they don’t know where or how they’re going to land. This does speak to what’s going on in Spain. For me, it’s a direct metaphor for the Spanish situation."

It’s all starting to sound a bit heavy for a film about a plane peopled by stewards who knock back tequila poppers and take to the aisles for drag-style lip-synchs to 80s classics like the titular Pointer Sisters number. And that’s before they dose up the first class cabin with mescaline. Almodovar runs his chunky fingers through his snow-white mane and sighs. "This movie is a tribute to the ’80s in Spain," he admits, "and to that decade when we found absolute freedom in every sense, because Franco died and we had a new democracy. Everything changed for the best. I miss that feeling."

"I have a big heart," he says and smiles broadly when asked if it’s tough to pull off social commentary using airlines’ first and coach tiers as a metaphor for strata in Spanish society. He doesn’t seem to have much in common with a director like Michael Moore, who’ll squeeze himself into coach just to make a point.

In fact, someone inside his own camp addresses the Princess Pedro factor with a roll of the eyes. "He’ll only do two hours of press a day now," he bemoans, "I mean, come on! And that’s just New York and Los Angeles now. He won’t go anywhere else." This insider also says that while this particular press junket is taking place downtown at the funky boutique Crosby Street Hotel, Almodovar is strictly uptown, checking into the St. Regis for weeks at a time.

"But I feel solidarity with people who have real problems," Almodovar counters, "even though I do fly first class, I really do feel like I belong in economy class. It’s how I grew up - I came from a very humble class in Spanish society. I feel the same as when I was a boy. It’s very clear to me that even though I am in a privileged position and I don’t have economic problems, I do fight against economic and social inequality, especially because in the last five years, the gap between rich and poor has really grown and I find this quite problematic. And the party that is now in power in Spain really considers me a bĂȘte noire."


The Skies Are Friendlier in First

Almovodar still remembers that bump up to first class. "It was coming here," he recalls, "to the United States. But the first time I came, I didn’t even have money to hire a place, so I was living in one bed with a boy. It was a big bed," he takes a beat and then his eyes grow wide. "No!" he exclaims, "nothing happened! It was a friend. He was such a nice guy, but I didn’t have a single dollar. That was ’84." Almodovar’s seat in the front happened four years later when his breakout hit "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" opened the New York Film Festival.

"Ohhhhh," his eyes widen again in epicurean delight, "I was in a nice hotel for the New York Film Festival too. And after, we flew to Los Angeles for the Oscars, and that was the first time, but I remember very clearly. They had a villa for me. They put me in the Sunset Marquis." Creature comforts don’t make him anyone’s bitch. "I smoke pot, I’ve tried cocaine and I am gay," he told the tuxedoed, Lincoln Center crowd on opening night of the 26th New York Film Festival, "now can we talk about my movie?"

Miguel Angel Silvestre, who plays the newlywed happy to supply first class with mescaline in the film, takes a long pause when pondering what he finds necessary for transatlantic travel. "On long trips," he finally admits, "I need a pajama. No animals on them, just regular."

Carlos Areces, who’s making his Almodovar debut as one of the lip-synching flight crew, says that sometimes it’s what you don’t have on a flight that makes all the difference. "The one thing I really need is not to have any children around me," says Areces while the rest of the cast chimes "si, si, si" in unison. "The children should travel in another plane," Areces suggests, "very far away. In the back, or down with the dogs."

Blanca Suarez, who also starred in last year’s "The Skin I Live In," happens to be partnered with Silvestre. When asked if they are one of those couples who books separate flights on the off-chance air disaster strikes, she asks, "What kind of question is that? Of course not!"

Two Almodovar stalwarts open the film in a brief cameo together. Antonio Banderas, who is the official face of Spain’s Iberostar Hotels & Resorts, is boxed in as to what he can shill, but co-star Penelope Cruz is happy to talk about her travel-musts, listing Ray Bans, the newspaper El Pais, strawberry gum, her BlackBerry Bold, an iPod cued up to Citizen Cope and a veritable handbag pharmacy containing homeopathic remedy Boiron Oscillococcinum, Emergen-C, and Dr. Schulze’s Cold & Flu Herbal "Shot" as airplane essentials.

But it’s Almodovar who gets the last word. When asked if he thinks "I’m So Excited" will ever play as an actual in-flight movie, he replies, "I would love that." But don’t look for the shock-headed director to tune in. "I don’t see movies on the plane," he confesses, "I bring down the tray and spread out all of my materials and I write a lot. I concentrate when I’m flying."


Tony Phillips covers the arts for The Village Voice, Frontiers and The Advocate. He’s also the proud parent of a new website: spookyelectricproductions.com.

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