Enthusiastic, irreverent, and master in bitter-sweet comedy, Pedro Almodóvar is the most popular director of Spanish film and is internationally renowned. After globally successful films, his latest “Madres Paralelas” opened the 78th Venice Film festival with protagonist Penelope Cruz who won the Coppa Volpi as best actor.
The director’s muse devoted the award to her friend and Pygmalion, who investigated one more time the female universe under a completely unique perspective. The film is engrossing and looks deep into one of the darkest sides of Spanish history, the one about the Desaparecidos and the most famous of them – Federico Garcia Lorca. While Almodóvar is working on his next project, Penelope is looking forward to hearing from him.
What do you like about your job?
The possibility of going deep into the truth beyond opportunism and reticence. The downside instead is the uncertainty. A director can never be sure that his next work will go well. A film’s success is connected to unpredictable things regardless of your talent, experience, and narrative ability.
Your latest film is packed with imperfect mothers, different from those generally depicted in your cinema. What is the reason for that change?
In this stage of my life, I am more interested in mothers who experience tough times and are different from the inspired, almost all-powerful women of earlier films. This type of woman is closer to my mother and the feminine figures that surrounded me.
Penelope’s character in Madres Paralelas was a novelty for me; she is a complex, remarkably interesting personality. She is a renowned photographer looking for the truth about her grandfather (one of the 140 thousand Desaparecidos whose tracks went lost) but she is also a secret keeper and protects herself behind the silence as many people did during Franco’s dictatorship.
In addition to Janis and Ana (interpreted by young Milena Smit) the third protagonist of your film is the memory of the historical past, which intends to restore justice and dignity to the victims of the dictatorship.
Spanish society owes to Desaparecidos enormously; they were stripped of their lives and buried in mass graves in total oblivion. I’m very sensitive to this theme which Spain, after 85 years, cannot continue ignoring.
How did you work it out in the film?
When we started shooting, nobody was talking about it except for a law (incomplete) of 2007, or for the initiative of private citizens. I decided to put that into my story to make the issue visible to the families, to let them know the truth, and restore the dignity they had been stolen. That is the only way to get the wound healed.
What is the reason for this silence?
During the dictatorship, people were terrified; it was a pathological fear. In my family, nobody spoke about the civil war. It was a trauma.
After democracy arrived in 1978, the problem of “the invisible” should have been addressed, but it didn’t happen. We forgot the dead in the graves and condemned them to non-existence. We got to the generation of grandchildren and grand grandchildren before asking for an exhumation.
The film holds a national symbol such as Federico Garcia Lorca.
This great poet was our most famous desaparecido; that’s why he appears in the film. He’s always been inspiring to me since the Seventies, when I started working on film direction, making films in super 8. It is unbelievable how Spain did not worry about looking for his corpse. Our country relates terribly to its past.
Does this difficulty to look back have consequences on film?
Unfortunately, it does. It’s very difficult to make a film on the problems affecting the past or rooted in our society.
Do you think you will unleash anger in those who deny the existence of Desaparecidos? Are you prepared?
Removing your past is an insult to the victims and ourselves. I am aware that the film will be criticized by negationists. I have decided to ignore them. Our positions are incompatible, and I won’t argue with them.
Let’s talk about your relationship with Penelope Cruz.
She’s a special friend and an extraordinary actress. She did her best in this film. She never insists, never badgers. But I know that whenever I’m working on a new film, she hopes that a character with her qualities will appear, and she looks forward to being called.
I confess that, when I write a new script, I cannot avoid thinking about her; in addition to being artistically excellent, we understand each other and speak the same language. I’m a demanding director and Penelope commits herself wholeheartedly and works hard. She trusts me completely, and this makes me confident.
How did you work on Madres paralelas?
I believed crucial to work on interpretation. Before shooting, we carefully read the script but that doesn’t mean that on the set you won’t adapt to the circumstances or the unpredictability. Between Penelope and I, this happens naturally. It’s a consequence of experience and affinity between us.