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The New Yorker:
"Obsessions" by
David Denby

The New York Times:
"The Track of a Teardrop,
a Filmmaker's Path" by
A.O. Scott

 

Pedro Almodóvar’s SELF INTERVIEW

ACTORS AND ACTRESSES

Q: From now on, we’ll have to say that as well as being a good director of actresses you’re also a good director of actors. The leading characters in Talk To Her are two men and the actors who play them are splendid.
A:
I’m delighted it’s you who’s said that. Yes, Javier Cámara and Darío Grandinetti are superb in very complicated roles. In any case, Talk To Her isn’t my first film with male leads. Carne Trémula is a testicular story. Matador and La ley del deseo were also stories in which men determined the action. In La ley... even the girl (Carmen Maura) was a man.

Q: Which do you find more enjoyable?
A:
What do you mean?

Q: When it comes to working, actors or actresses?
A:
When they’re wonderful and can make me forget that I’m the director and the writer, I enjoy both equally and very much. Over the course of fourteen feature films I admit that I’ve found more good actresses than good actors, but it’s also true that I’ve written more female roles than male or neuter roles.

Q: That’s obvious...
A: In another field, that of writing, and as a general rule, I believe that women inspire me to write comedies, and men, tragedies.

Q: Why don’t you do more comedies?
A: The scripts done come out easily. But I’m going to force it.

Q: Can you force a script, the elements that make it up, the tone?
A: No. Or you shouldn’t, with the exception of documentaries and biographic films.

Q: To what genre does Talk To Her belong?
A: I don’t know. All I know is that it isn’t a western, or a film about CIA agents. Nor is it a James Bond film or a period piece.

Q: It does have an element of that...
A: That’s true, seven minutes to be precise, which take place in 1924.

Q: Those seven minutes are giving rise to a lot of talk.
A: Even though they’re silent... In the middle of the film, the nurse Benigno (Javier Cámara) uses one of his few free nights to go to the Cinematheque to see a silent Spanish film: Amante Menguante (Shrinking Lover). I show about seven minutes of that film.

Q: Isn’t it a bit risky to interrupt the general narrative with a very different piece, or is it a flashback involving the same characters?
A: No, it isn’t a flashback, it’s a separate story... and yes, it’s risky, very risky...

Q: Aren’t you afraid the spectator will be confused, or lose his concentration?
A: Now that I’ve finished it, no, but while I was filming it I was terrified. I couldn’t sleep until I had the two stories edited together.
  
SPOKEN CINEMA
A: The part that runs from when Javier goes to the Cinematheque until he finishes telling the film to the recumbent, remote Alicia (about ten minutes running time) is one of my favorites.

Q: What’s the reason for this “detour” from the central story?
A: It only seems like a detour, because the nurse’s story doesn’t actually stop during those seven minutes, rather it overlaps and merges with that of Shrinking Lover. In any case, the original reason (when I was working on the script) was so that I could use the silent film as a front.

Q: To hide what?
A: What is really happening in Alicia’s room. I don’t want to show it to the spectator and I invented Shrinking Lover as a kind of blindfold. In any case, the spectator will discover what has happened at the same time as the other characters. It’s a secret which I’d like no one to reveal.

Q: That’s called manipulation.
A: It’s a narrative option, and not exactly a simple one. That’s why I’m so proud of the result.

Q: In any case, it isn’t the first time that your characters explain themselves through another film. For example, in Tacones Lejanos...
A: Yes. Victoria Abril shouted a scene from Autumn Sonata at her mother, Marisa Paredes, in order to explain the love and hate that she felt for her, a love and hate so great they’d even driven her to kill. In Matador the protagonists hurry into a cinema (she’s running away from him) where they are showing Duel In The Sun. On the screen they can see what their own end will be. In Carne Trémula, while Liberto Rabal and Francesca Neri are fighting, the television is showing Buñuel’s Rehearsal For A Crime (aka The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz). Buñuel’s film could well provide the title for this section of Carne... And its images anticipate two elements which will later appear in my film, a legless man (after this scene Javier Bardem’s character ends up in a wheelchair, in The Criminal Life... it was a dummy which had its leg removed) and the fire which would trap Angela Molina’s character when Liberto breaks off with her (in The Criminal Life... it was the oven in which Archibaldo de la Cruz was burning a dummy identical to the character played by Miroslava. By coincidence, years later, the actress really did die in a burning car).

For me, the films I see become part of my own experiences, and I use them as such. There’s no intention of paying homage to their directors or of imitating them. They’re elements which are absorbed into the script and become part of it. “Telling films” is something that has to do with my biography. And I’m not talking about a film forum or the typical discussion about cinema (I hate those). I remember that when I was little I would tell films to my sisters, films that we’d seen together. I’d get carried away by the memory and while I was telling them I’d reinvent them. Really, I was making my own adaptation, and my sisters preferred my inaccurate, delirious versions to the original film. I remember that during those hours when time slowed down (sitting in the patio while they sewed, or gathered around the table with the brazier underneath), they would say: Pedro, tell us the film we saw yesterday...

Q: Can you see yourself telling films to your grandchildren?
A: I don’t know, It’s getting late for me to have grandchildren... In any case, I don’t think I’d do it. I don’t tell films anymore, I’ve lost that skill and I only talk about them when I’m forced to do so in interviews.
  
ORIGIN
Q: What was the inspiration for Talk To Her?
A: Several true incidents which happened in the last ten years, of which I’d taken note.

1. An American woman awakens from a coma after sixteen years. According to the doctors, her condition was irreversible. I was really struck when I saw a photo of the woman in El País, supported by two nurses and learning to walk again. Her awakening contradicted everything that science says about such cases.

2. In Rumania, the young night watchman in a morgue feels attracted by the corpse of a young girl. The loneliness of death added to the loneliness of the night resulted in “too much loneliness”, the young watchman gives in to his desires and possesses the dead beauty. What happens afterwards is one of those miracles of human nature which I don’t think the Pope would like very much. As a reaction to the amorous harassment, the dead girl comes to life. She’d been suffering from a kind of catalepsy and only seemed to be dead. (I wasn’t the only person who took note of that incident. Two years ago, in France, they made a film based on it). Although the resuscitated girl’s family was grateful to the rapist, they couldn’t prevent him being put in jail. They brought him food parcels and got him a lawyer. The unusual situation led to a curious dilemma: in the eyes of the law the boy was just a rapist, but for the family, whose reaction was ruled by their emotions, the boy had brought their daughter back to life. It was a wonderful story from start to finish and all of it inspired me, including the “moral dilemma” which also appears in Talk To Her.

3. In New York, a girl who’s been in a coma for nine years becomes pregnant (without awakening from the coma. I don’t know what happened when she gave birth). A few days later, they discover that the culprit was an orderly in the clinic. The question is, how can a body which is clinically dead (death is determined by the brain) beget life?

4. I believe it was Cocteau who said that “beauty” can be painful. I suppose he was referring to the beauty of people. I think that situations which involve moments of unexpected, extraordinary beauty can bring tears to your eyes, tears which have more to do with pain than pleasure. Tears which fill the place in our eyes of those who are absent.

5. Ever since I saw The Devil Doll and The Incredible Shrinking Man I’ve dreamed about making a film with a tiny person where the legs of the furniture and the relief of the floor become the main set. In fact, I’d already written a treatment about a story like that.

All those incidents and the memory of a love affair, broken off when it was still alive, were my inspiration for the script of Talk To Her.

WORDS AND LONLINESS
Q: When the psychiatrist asks Javier Cámara’s character what his problem is, he replies: “Loneliness, I guess”.
A: Marco (Darío Grandinetti) also tells the two women in the film on two very different occasions that he’s lonely. In both cases, neither Benigno nor Marco gets melodramatic about it, they’re simply stating a fact. Loneliness is something which all the characters in the film have in common. Alicia and Lydia are lonely too. And Katerina, the ballet mistress. And Alicia’s father, although it’s likely that after a while he’ll have an affair with the receptionist in his consultancy. And the nurse played by Mariola Fuentes, secretly in love with her fellow worker Benigno. And the housekeeper in Benigno’s building. Even the only unpleasant character, the despicable interviewer played by Loles León, ends up alone on the set, talking to the camera because Lydia (quite rightly) has stormed off in the middle of the interview. And the bull is left alone in the huge ring when Lydia is taken to the infirmary, fatally injured... “Loneliness, I guess” is another possible title for this film.

Q: In a self interview, a genre with which you’re familiar, how does the loneliness affect you? What do you feel at the absence of an interlocutor... nostalgia... or contempt?
A: I don’t feel contempt for anything, not even for things I hate. The reason I interview myself is for practical rather than endogamic reasons. I say what I want to say and in the fastest way possible. In any case, a self interview is a written piece and writing is always done in solitude.

Q: Have you ever realized that you were talking to yourself?
A: Right now.

Q: I mean in your life, without whatever you say necessarily appearing in print.
A: Yes. A few months ago. I caught myself doing it on several days. I did it either in the morning, when I’d just got up, or at night. (I’ve been told that Buñuel also talked to himself in the morning, to check on how his deafness was progressing). I was doing it to check the sound and power of my voice. I lost my voice during the shoot and for a few weeks when I got up after the long nocturnal silence, I’d talk to myself in bed or in front of the mirror. “How’s my voice today?”, I’d ask myself. “Much better. If I don’t force it, I may make it through to the evening.” I’ve always believed in words, even when you’ve got no voice... or no one to talk to.

Q: Is that the message in Talk To Her?
A: As in any film, the message is “Go see it”; then, in a subliminal way, “and tell your friends about it.”