Less Romeo, more Julieta

Writ­ing­for men is a ‘kind oftor­ture’, says Pe­dro Almod­ó­var, as he praises the ‘wo­man’s films’ of the 1930s and 1940s, and rails against the lack of au­then­tic­ity in mod­ern cinema to TaraBrady

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM -

A group of us – me, Pe­dro Almod­ó­var, his as­sis­tant Lola and his trans­la­tor – are hud­dled around a ta­ble in one of Soho’s swanki­est ho­tels. We’re try­ing to work out the Span­ish for “ghost­ing”, that mod­ern phe­nom­e­non, wherein a friend or lover dis­ap­pears with­out ex­pla­na­tion. Mo­bile num­bers, so­cial me­dia ac­counts and emails are blocked or changed ac­cord­ingly.

As it hap­pens, this 21st cen­tury dump­ing method isn’t a Castil­ian con­cept just yet, but it does per­tain to Almod­ó­var’s new film, Julieta.

“It’s not about a ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ship,” says the film-maker from un­der his im­pres­sive brush of sil­ver hair. “But it is about a mother and daugh­ter, a re­la­tion­ship that is very pas­sion­ate. There is a sense of be­trayal. Even at the start, the mother feels that the daugh­ter loves her fa­ther more.

“When one of them dis­ap­pears, she has al­ready turned her­self into a ghost. She is phys­i­cally there. But she is not really there. And she has also turned the other into a ghost. She may as well be dead. She is dead for her.”

Should the the­o­ret­i­cal alien civil­i­sa­tions or­bit­ing KIC 8462852 ven­ture to our planet, they would likely recog­nise Julieta as an Almod­ó­var pic­ture. The film’s “cherchez-la-femme” nar­ra­tive plays out in Hitch­cock­ian beats against red walls and weird phal­lic ce­ram­ics.

It’s a wo­man’s pic­ture. Of course, it is. As if to stay on mes­sage, the film-maker com­pli­ments me on the firm­ness of my hand­shake when we meet. “I like a strong wo­man,” he smiles, with glee­ful self-aware­ness.

He loves the idea that Julieta shares DNA with the big stu­dios’ “wo­man’s films” of the 1930s and 1940s.

“Can you imag­ine it?” he says. “Can you imag­ine that the stu­dios had a genre called after women and made for women? In­cred­i­ble films star­ring Bette Davis, Joan Craw­ford and Jane Wy­man. It couldn’t hap­pen now.”

Dra­mat­ic­things

There are some ex­cep­tions, he says. We still can de­pend on Meryl Streep to pop up in some­thing that looks like a wo­man’s film. And the di­rec­tor is par­tic­u­larly in­trigued by TV’s Home­land.

“All of the re­al­ity, all of the truth is be­ing taken out of cinema,” he says. “So you have to turn to tele­vi­sion to find some­one like Claire Danes on Home­land. She’s bipo­lar. She’s not al­ways re­li­able. Even with the dra­matic things hap­pen­ing around her, she deals with is­sues that a 35-year-old wo­man might have to deal with.”

He de­scribes writ­ing for men as a “kind of tor­ture”, but can’t ex­plain why he prefers his on­screen sur­ro­gates – muses that in­clude Car­men Maura, Elena Anaya, Pené­lope Cruz, Vic­to­ria Abril, Chus Lam­p­reave, Marisa Pare­des – to be women.

“I’ve al­ways liked it that way,” he says. “I’m not sure why. I’ve al­ways felt a unity with women.”

Julieta may look and feel like an Almod­ó­var film, yet it is no­tably less rau­cous than his ear­lier, fun­nier ones. The ti­tle char­ac­ter is, at her psy­cho­log­i­cal best, on the verge of a ner­vous break­down, but that’s the only vague over­lap she shares with the in­hab­i­tants of the di­rec­tor’s mad­cap 1988 farce, Women on the Verge of a Ner­vous Break­down.

Source­ma­te­rial

Why so se­ri­ous? It was sug­gested by the source ma­te­rial, he says. In or­der to adapt the work of Alice Munro, “. . . it had to be pure. It had to be naked. That is what this char­ac­ter is go­ing through. There could be noth­ing to hide. And it is my 20th film. I have to change what I am

The dis­ori­en­ta­tion re­flects that. Peo­ple no longer trust pol­i­tics, politi­cians or in­sti­tu­tions. They no longer feel rep­re­sented. Re­al­ity al­ways finds a way into my films

do­ing. I will get bored. I do not want to re­peat my­self.”

The Cana­dian No­bel lau­re­ate Munro is not an ob­vi­ous choice for Almod­ó­var, but then nei­ther was Ruth Ren­dell, whose Live

Flesh he adapted in 1997. When he’s read­ing, does he know right away when he wants to adapt?

“I al­ways know what I want to adapt,” he laughs. “Ev­ery­thing. It’s a kind of crazi­ness with me. I’m go­ing to leave all my books to my as­sis­tant Lola. Be­cause they all have notes for screen­plays writ­ten on them all the way through. I can’t help it.”

Julieta was sup­posed to be Almod­ó­var’s first English-lan­guage film with Meryl Streep in the ti­tle role. Ul­ti­mately the land­scape – cul­tur­ally, phys­i­cally, po­lit­i­cally – of the di­rec­tor’s home­land proved too strong a lure.

No change there then. Almod­ó­var is not overtly po­lit­i­cal, he says, but his films “re­flect where I am and what I’m feel­ing”.

Sure enough, the films Almod­ó­var made in the 1980s – arte­facts of the punk­ish “la movida

madrileña” (the Madrid scene) – are in­trin­si­cally bound to the death of Franco and new so­ci­etal free­doms. Pepi, Luci, Bom and Other Girls Like Mom (1980) sees a teenage punk in­tro­duce her­self to her fu­ture lover by uri­nat­ing in her face. Laby

rinth of Pas­sion (1982) con­cerns a nympho­ma­niac pop star named Sex­ilia. Mata­dor (1986) cen­tres on the re­la­tion­ship be­tween an ex-bull­fighter and his lawyer, who both get off on mur­der. Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990) is an erot­i­cally charged tale of Stock­holm syn­drome.

Sin­is­ter el­e­ments

Julieta’s rather more sober brand of melo­drama mir­rors the cur­rent Span­ish mood.

“We have two gen­eral elec­tions in six months,” says Almod­ó­var. “And we’re look­ing at a third. The dis­ori­en­ta­tion within the film re­flects that. Peo­ple no longer trust pol­i­tics, politi­cians or in­sti­tu­tions. They no longer feel rep­re­sented. Re­al­ity al­ways finds a way into my films.”

To­day, Almod­ó­var mostly speaks through his trans­la­tor, al- though oc­ca­sion­ally – should it mat­ter enough – he’ll turn around and say some­thing in per­fect, if vaguely ac­cented English: “Spain is a sec­u­lar coun­try; it’s the politi­cians who want you to be­lieve it’s a Catholic one”, “I’m not a be­liever but ev­ery night I pray that Don­ald Trump doesn’t be­come pres­i­dent”, and, for Ire­land, as a ma­jor UK trad­ing part­ner: not get­ting a say in Brexit “. . . was un­demo­cratic.”

He de­spairs, too, over the po­lit­i­cal resur­gence of such sin­is­ter right-wing el­e­ments as the Catholic Peo­ple’s Party.

“I have no prob­lem with faith,” says Almod­ó­var, who first took aim at the moral bank­ruptcy of Spain’s re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions as long ago as 1983’s

Dark Habits. “My mother was a prac­tis­ing Catholic. Faith is a gift. I some­times feel lonely be­cause it is not a gift I can share. I do have a prob­lem with the clergy. I do not like how they have twisted the ideas of Je­sus. And they have no place in pol­i­tics.” Julieta is in cin­e­mas now

Julieta Di­rec­tor Pe­dro Almod­ó­var with ac­tors Adri­ana Ugarte and Emma Suárez

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