'Women inspire me to write comedies, and men, tragedies'

Story by Jack Foley


Pedro Almodovar - extracts from a self interview…

Q: From now on, we’ll have to say that as well as being a good director of actresses, you are also a good director of male 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 Camara and Dario Grandinetti are superb in very complicated roles. In any case, Talk To Her isn’t my first film with male leads. Live Flesh is a testicular story. Matador and The Laws of Desire were also stories in which men determined the action. In The Laws of Desire, even the girl (Carmen Maura) was a man.

Q: When it comes to working, which do you find more enjoyable, 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 14 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 neutral 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: 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 takes 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 Camara) 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 character?
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. The part that runs from when Javier goes to the Cinematheque until he finishes telling the film to the recumbent, remote Alicia (about 10-minutes running time) is one of my favourites.

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: When the psychiatrist asks Benigno what his problem is, he replies: "Loneliness, I guess."
A: Marco (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 Leon, 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 are 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 realised that you were talking to yourself? 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 Bunuel 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’.

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