Sex, Death and Comedy: Pedro Almodovar Flies Back to His Roots

"I'm So Excited" harks back to the director's early works while drawing inspiration from Spain's modern day turbulence

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    Director Pedro Almodovar (center) talks with actors, Cecila Roth (right) and Guillermo Toledo in this hand out photo during the filming of Almodovar's new film "I'm So Excited"

    “I think both sex and death are eternal themes,” says Pedro Almodovar, the renowned Spanish filmmaker who’s once again chosen to explore both topics in his latest cinematic work, “Los amantes pasajeros” – or as it’s titled in English, “I’m So Excited.”

    “I think you could make thousands of movies on these themes,” he continues ahead of the film's release in the United States on June 28. “If you don’t have any of these artistic expressions, sex is one of the only gifts that our nature gave us for free, so it is very important to celebrate it. And then, with death – we are condemned to that. This is absolutely present in our lives.”

    Almodovar admits that he tries to consider both topics from a very free point of view in his work, but struggles to come at them without baggage or barriers. “With sex, I think I can manage with that,” he chuckles. “With death…this is a more difficult theme for me. I’m not a believer even though I’m baptized – I don’t practice, I don’t believe in God, so I feel really very alone facing death…"

    "When I made ‘Matador,’ I tried to discover myself dealing with this theme, and what I discovered is that the only way for me to recognize death is just if it were part of life, if you link it with sexual pleasure…Death is there, everywhere. But I feel like a child: I cannot really understand why this cycle is like it is.”

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    Perhaps that’s why after a recent period of work that drew inspiration from noir potboilers, thrillers, horror films, ghost stories and the stylized, baroque storytelling that characterizes those forms, the 63-year-old writer-director chose to confront those enduring sex and death through-lines with laughter and a light comedic touch that harks back to his earliest works.

    “I think really all the films that you make, whether you realize it or not, are part of a chain and they’re all linked together in one way or another,” he says, unblinkingly embracing the thematic ties between his works in ways that other filmmakers often recoil from.

    “I am conscious that this is almost the opposite movie of ‘The Skin I Live In’ or ‘Broken Embraces’ or ‘Volver,’ but I identified very much with it – I mean, it belongs more to the decade of the '80s when I started making movies. I think I wanted to recover my youth or to recover that kind of explosion of freedom that we experimented with in Spain and in Madrid after Franco died and the new democracy arrived.”

    By the time he finished shooting the film, he says, he realized that in a way, “I’m So Excited” was a kind of a tribute film – “not to my career, but to the decade of the '80s in Spain. Spain has changed a lot, for worse – for much worse now. The whole world has changed, and also I’m 33 years older than I was in the 80s. I think I missed that atmosphere that we lived in, in Madrid of the early 80s.”

    Unlike many of his previous films which have largely focused on one or two characters, “I’m So Excited” centers around multiple characters and multiple plots, but pushes them all together in a single space – almost all of the action occurs on a Spanish airliner where the passengers and crew’s personal dramas come to a head when they realize the jet may face a catastrophic fate.

    The filmmaker found inspiration using the severe economic crisis in Spain as a background element that would also have metaphoric importance without, he believes, a heavy-handed message.

    "In this movie, there is a metaphor about the Spanish society – you don’t need to see that, but it is there," he says. "That fear and uncertainty are both feelings that I experience in my country and I feel it represents the Spanish society. We are frightened of what is happening. We need an emergency landing. We also are traveling in a circle without knowing exactly what will be or where we will find the right place to land.”