Friday, 26 January 2018

Pedro Almodóvar: How To Make a Film

Volver (Directed by Pedro Almodóvar)
It’s very difficult to explain the origins of everything in a film because it’s very mysterious and many things happen by chance. You have to be writing all the time and in my case I make notes all the time. l am always working on four or five ideas and there comes a time when I decide to just write one.
You never ever really feel that you are going to be able to pull off the project that you are working on. You never have complete confidence. But of course there comes a time when you feel that you have learnt the trade and the craft of making films, so I feel now that I know the language and how to use it to get a particular emotion. But even if you know all the elements of the technique, you need something else. You need vision, a lot of honesty, strong imagination, and control of that imagination. Language is something quite easy to learn, but the most important thing in a film is your point of view, your vision, and how you look at the world around you.

You never feel absolutely sure about the final outcome because all the different components that make up the film are alive as you make it. One of those elements, of course, is the people. In a film you’ve got forty, fifty or sixty people working with you and the most difficult thing is controlling them, not because they are trying to rebel against you or not obeying you, but because the material you are using to make the film is alive and they are interacting with it as well. So sometimes the end result is not the one you are looking for. The stamp or style you put on your films is extremely personal and there really aren’t that many rules governing it, because what might work for Orson Welles or for David Lynch doesn’t necessarily work for me at all. So you have to seek out your own preferences, the way you would like to use language, and it’s something you just get over time, little by little. I still haven’t discovered it fully yet. I am still working on it.

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Directed by Pedro Almodóvar)
I remember that all through the 1980s, I was developing my own filmmaking style with a very specific aesthetic stamp on it. So in the late eighties, from Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, everything the people in the decor department brought me was over the top. It was almost too Almodovar-y which is exactly what I didn’t want. It was almost as if the Almodovar style had become a cliche.

I battle against cliche. If you give a dramatic role to an actor who is suffering in their personal life, it is very easy for that actor or actress to cry. But I don’t want those real tears. For me the movie is always a representation of reality in every sense, from the actors to the lighting. I want their tears to be artificial as well.

When you’re a director you have to have your own language, you have to be in possession of that language and the vision of the story you want to tell through the film you are making. On top of that you also have to have bags of common sense and be very strong because you are a boss in the best and worst sense, and you have to demonstrate this all the time. You have to make 100 decisions every moment.

When you’re shooting a film—and this is something Francois Truffaut said—it’s like a runaway train. The brakes have failed and the director’s job is to ensure that that train doesn’t go of the rails at all. Some directors, even though they’re extremely talented as filmmakers, just don’t have the resilience to be able to cope with that process. And I really think that there are too many directors around who have that authority to be able to cope with the filmmaking and too few really talented ones who haven’t been able to last. Because you have to deal with the human factor and that human factor can destroy you.

Dark Habits (Directed by Pedro Almodóvar)
I remember when I was making Dark Habits (1983). there was one actress who was playing her first leading role, and as the days of shooting went on, I realized she wasn’t up to what the role demanded of her. So what I did was pass a lot of the dialogue on to actresses who were playing the roles of the nuns. I stripped her of the things she was supposed to be doing and during production that all went into the community of nuns in the film. Their roles got richer and richer. When you are shooting you discover things like this that you cannot discover during rehearsals; because in rehearsals you don’t have the props or the action.

How do I control all these elements? I repeat myself to the crew over and over again. If I want a specific blue color on the wall I get them to paint the whole spectrum of blues from gray to blue and then I point out exactly which one I want. It’s almost like being a painter gathering materials. but this time in three dimensions.

If I want to set up the scene with a table and two chairs and an armchair, I already have an idea in my mind of the colors, the composition, and the form of it all, so what I do is give photos to the design team to go off and find it for me. They bring me examples of the different tables and I try them out. It’s all through trial and error, moving things around, changing their position and checking what works together.

This process makes my filmmaking more painstaking than it could otherwise be, but I must also work in this way with my actors. It takes an awful long time to get the hairstyles right or the way they will dress. I take a long time trying things out with the actors because they never feel they are in character until they know what the character looks like. Just simple decisions like the length of hair that an actress should have take ages to work out. I come along with lots of fashion and hair magazines, and photos of ideas that I have with exactly the length of the hair the actress should have, but everyone’s hair is different, so you still have to see if it works with their hair.

Volver (Directed by Pedro Almodóvar)
For instance, it took ages to get that very natural, unhairdo-like style that Penelope had in Volver. It was supposed to look like she had just put it up, but the amount of time it took you would think we had constructed some elaborate hairdo. But it worked and was incredible. What is important is not to give up on the small things.

Of course, Volver had a strong relation to Italian neorealism, and, unlike the women in Spanish neorealist films, the women are very attractive. So I saw in my mind that I wanted a very attractive look. Then you have to take into account the social class of the character and how women from that class would look and you have to add a touch of humor. I did lots of research going into the homes of that type of housewife from that social class and picking out the little, funny details that I could replicate in the film. There are all sorts of color schemes you see in these homes. but by that point I had already made up my mind of exactly the range of colors I would be working with. I always do that through intuition when I finish a script and just before I start shooting. I have already made up my mind about the spectrum of colors in the film that I will be making. Before all this I always have a very clear idea of the whole narrative process itself as the film goes on. For me writing and directing are symbiotic, complementary. While I am writing, I am working out the moments when you are giving information to the audiences, and the moments when you are withholding information. How that works is the narrative flow through the film, the way the characters are built up, and how they react or interact with each other. This is all very clear in my mind when I am writing the script. The script also includes the atmosphere I want to feature in each scene, and the songs that each have a dramatic function and are integral to the script.

The importance of arts in general in my films can’t be underestimated, When I am writing the script, l am always going out because everything you see, everything you hear, every movie you see, you watch it and it informs the sensibility of the story you are writing. So I was writing The Skin I Live In when I saw an exhibition of Louise Bourgeois at the Tate Modern, and Vera is looking at a book of her work in the film, It is a way for her to survive.

Volver (Directed by Pedro Almodóvar)
Songs also very important. Cucurrucucu Paloma is a very famous Mexican song and there have been thousands of versions, but when I heard the Caetano Veloso version I was amazed because the song became something completely different. It became a dark lullaby, very moving. Then in Talk to Her, I present the character of Marco as a man who cries at certain times, so I needed a song to play in the party scene that was moving enough to make him cry. This is very risky because there is no way for the production to declare that at 1 am we will have deep emotion. But I needed that emotion because otherwise the audience wouldn’t understand that this was a man who cried with emotion. Then I tried to think of things that really move me a lot and one of those things was Caetano’s song, so I called him and asked him to perform it in the film. I was right because he was amazing and the situation is intriguing.

Likewise, a song gives Volver its title. Volver is all about this great Spanish tradition of the dead coming back to settle unsettled accounts. So Volver is coming back from beyond.

Sometimes I have things in my mind that aren’t visible in the final film, but they are important for me because they give me a basis from which I can jumpstart the story. I had a whole back story in my mind for Penelope’s character in Volver—she was a beautiful young girl who her mother adored, and she wanted her to be a singer and a performer and taught her this song Volver so she could go and perform it in auditions for little girls—which is exactly the same story you see in Bellissima [the Visconti classic featuring Anna Magnani in the mother role]. There’s a part in the film in the kitchen where Carmen Maura says to Penelope, ‘Did you always have big boobs like that?’ and she says ‘Yes, mummy, ever since I was a little girl.’ So for the auditions, the mother puts makeup on her and puts her in amazing dresses. Her father sees all this and it must have been quite a vision for him, so much so that he couldn’t resist the temptation. There was always a lot of incest within the family in these households in La Mancha.

So when Penelope sings the song that her mother taught her in the film, she is remembering her mother very tenderly, even though she thought the mother didn’t do anything about the father raping her. And it is very moving for the mother, who is listening from the car on the street, because the song is talking about the passing of time. It is almost like the daughter is sending an unconscious message to her mother that she doesn’t really hate her, despite the passing of time. None of that is actually explained in the film at all, but my movies are all about secrets and the secret intentions I have that give me the reason to work. Of course they are not visible, but the audience can feel that strength.

— Extract from ‘Interview with Pedro Almodóvar’ in Filmcraft: Directing by Mike Goodridge.

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