The World of Almodóvar

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Virgilio Fantuzzi, SJ

 Virgilio Fantuzzi, SJ / April 2017, Vol. 1 no. 3 / Published Date:12 April 2017/Last Updated Date:5 February 2021


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Julieta (Emma Suarez) lives in Madrid with her daughter Antia (Blanca Pares). Both suffer in silence over the loss of Xoan (Daniel Grao), father of Antia and husband of Julieta. But sometimes pain divides people, instead of uniting them. On the day Antia turns eighteen years old, she abandons her mother without giving her any explanation. Julieta starts searching for Antia by all means available, but the only thing she manages to discover is how little she knows about her daughter.

A mother’s heart

The film Julieta by Pedro Almodovar examines a mother’s fight to survive uncertainty. Little by little, she comes to understand why her daughter decided to erase her from her own life. The film debuted at the Cannes Film Festival 2016 and talks about destiny, about guilt, and about the unfathomable mystery which pushes some to abandon the people they love – to ignore them as if they had never meant anything, as if they had never existed.

The folds of red fabric on which the opening credits appear might recall a stage curtain, ready to be lifted in order to start the dramatic action. But the red fabric, as later shown by a wider image, is that of Julieta’s red dress, behind which beats a mother’s wounded heart.

The second object to appear onscreen is a terracotta sculpture depicting a seated man. Julieta carefully folds protective wrapping around the statuette and places it, together with other objects, into a cardboard box. The year is 2016, and Julieta is packing her bags with the intention of definitively leaving Madrid and moving to Portugal.

The sculpture was made by Ava (Inma Custa), Julieta’s artist friend, who loved to listen, as she molded terracotta statues, to the ancient myths recounted by Julieta, a professor of classical literature.

“The gods created men and other beings with the help of clay and fire”, says Julieta. It is 1985. The young Julieta is played by Adriana Ugarte, who is some thirty years younger than Emma Suarez. The two women are both splendid, as well as alike, despite the difference in age.

The women’s relationship with the sculpture, in the symbolic language weaving its way through the film’s imagery, is an allusion to the power of women, a theme which is dear to Almodovar. “The woman,” says the director, “not only gives life, but she is stronger in fighting, administering, suffering and enjoying all that life brings with it. Only fate is stronger than her.

A deadly silence

Antia, daughter of Julieta and Xoan, turns 18 in 2003. Now an adult, she decides to go and spend three months on retreat in the Aragonese Pyrenees. Never having been separated from her before, Julieta is distressed by the idea of her daughter’s departure.

The mother watches her daughter disappear as she walks down the stairs of their home. She tries to hide her pain as best she can. The situation reminds her of previous goodbyes she has endured, of which she has never spoken to her daughter. One of those goodbyes took place on a train during an overnight journey in 1985, the same night Antia was conceived.

A man had sat down opposite Julieta with tears in his eyes, and had tried to start a conversation. She had responded coldly, and had never been able to forget the man’s gaze.

The other gaze which still torments her is the gaze of Xoan, the fisherman she had met that same night on the train. Julieta and Xoan had started a family and had gone to live in Redes, a fishing village in Galicia. One day, thirteen years later, they had had an argument about Xoan’s past – something Julieta had discovered, which had badly disappointed her. She had decided to go outside. Xoan had begged her to stay and talk, but she had taken refuge in silence, and had left the house.

Xoan had watched her walk out the door, disoriented and a little beseeching. Julieta had returned home that evening intending to resume their interrupted conversation, but Xoan was not there, and they never had the opportunity to finish that conversation. Shortly after she had left, Xoan had gone fishing and that afternoon a sudden and violent storm ended his life.

After receiving no word of her daughter for years, Julieta destroys all physical reminders which connect her to Antia, and moves to a different address. She decides to bury her daughter’s memory. Nothing must remind her of Antia. She goes to live in an anonymous apartment in the suburbs, far from the city center where she had lived with her daughter.

Among the symbolic elements of this film is the furnishing of Julieta’s various homes, marking the different phases of her life. From the fisherman’s house in Galicia, its windows facing the sea – sometimes dazzling with color, at other times black with the storm – to the oldstyle house in the heart of Madrid where she moves with Antia, who wanted to live near her inseparable friend Bea (Michelle Jenner). The suburban apartment with its white walls and lack of ornaments that reflect the emptiness inside Julieta.

When she decides to leave Madrid, never to return (we watched her pack her boxes for the move), a fortuitous encounter with Bea, who she hasn’t seen for years, causes Julieta to suddenly change her plans. Bea says she bumped into Antia by chance on Lake Como, and told her that her mother still lives in Madrid.

The news Julieta receives from Bea is scant (Antia is married, she has three children), but enough to radically change her plans. She breaks off the relationship with her new partner Lorenzo (Dario Grandinetti) without providing any explanation – one of the succession of silences unfolding throughout the film. She returns to the building where she had shared an apartment with her daughter, and attempts to resume contact with her ghost, writing a long letter in which she says everything she had never said when they lived together.

In 2016 Julieta walks around the places she used to stroll through with her daughter in 1998, after they moved to Madrid. She wanders the streets of the same neighborhood, she stops at the basketball court to which she used to bring Antia with her friend BeaOne imagines Almodovar, just like Julieta, is trying to set his time machine in motion by revisiting the places where, from the start of the 1980s, he began to direct his first films. His reverie is not hard to follow…

Labyrinths

Labyrinth of Passion (Laberinto de pasiones, 1982) is a fairy tale, of sorts. Evil witch Toraya (Helga Line) causes a rift between two preadolescents, Riza Niro (Imanol Arias) and Sexilia (Cecilia Roth), who love each other without malice. The trauma caused by this negative experience pushes them both to take wrong turns. He finds himself a homosexual, she finds herself a nymphomaniac.

We catch up with them years later in the nightclubs of Madrid, where the movida is in full swing. Neither of them are able to find their place. But their winding paths, full of unforeseen twists and identity swaps, are precisely what will lead them to meet again, help them to remove the inhibitions created by their old trauma, and return them to the firm ground of a harmonious relationship.

The film contains a very colorful re-enactment of Madrid’s nightlife at the start of the 80s, which Almodovar himself helped to animate as an eclectic showman, combining pop, rock and funk experiences. The director, who was then beginning what would turn out to be his dazzling career, sowed dismay among rightthinking citizens, allowing himself freedoms – depicting coarse situations, using vulgar language – which had long been repressed by the official conformism of Franco’s Spain.

Dark Habits (Entre tinieblas, 1983) is a film which irritated the public and the critics, both for its irreverent content (a small, female monastery illustrated more in light of its human weaknesses than its religious virtues) and for the manner of its filming, which was considered unsophisticated, inclined to a certain carelessness, and not without aggressiveness towards the spectator (all that vomiting into the camera…).

Almodovar refutes the accusation of anticlericalism, saying that religion, for him, consists in looking people in the eye with compassion when they live in difficulty, and particularly when they are women, more vulnerable than men to suffering harassment of all kinds – whether they are women pushed to the margins of society, forced to perform the most humiliating roles to survive, or whether they are religious women confined to the restrictive spaces of a monastery, where it is not easy to maintain the balance between the limitations imposed by its rules and the surge of unbridled impulses.

Almodovar, inclined to metaphor, adds to the monastery a young tiger, taken in by the nuns when he was a cub, and cossetted as if he were their own child. Now the tiger is three years old. Fed with meat even when the nuns are fasting, he knows what he wants and how to get it.

Law of Desire (La ley del deseo, 1987) is a real melodrama of masculinity. Pablo (Eusebio Poncela), a successful screenwriter and director, is in love with Juan (Miguel Molina), but is not averse to other adventures, and begins a relationship with Antonio (Antonio Banderas). The latter wants Pablo all to himself and kills Juan. Pablo is devastated. The affair has a tragic ending.

According to Almodovar, romantic passion cannot be controlled, whether it is homosexual or heterosexual. However, no one assures the victims of this passion that they will find a soulmate with whom to share it. This is the common fate of Pablo and Antonio, both in love, but unrequited.

The character of Pablo, who is a cinema and theatre director as well as a writer, allows Almodovar to insert metalinguistic passages into his story, including for example a staging of the female monologue La Voix Humaine by Cocteau, performed by Tina (Carmen Maura), Pablo’s transsexual sister. Also performing onstage is Ada (Manuela Velasco), a young girl whom Tina looks after as a mother, singing in playback Ne me quitte pas by Jacques Brel, recorded by Marisa Matarazzo.

Both Cocteau’s lyrics and Brel’s song lend musical voice to Almodovar’s beloved theme of passion’s destructive force. The show within the show also marks the failure of Pablo, who is unable, as a director, to sublimate his romantic sufferings into art.

When he is involved in a traffic accident which causes temporary loss of memory, Pablo is able to establish a relationship with Tina, from whom he learns his family’s secrets – aspects of reality he did not know, which he must begin to deal with from now onwards.

Cover models

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios, 1987) opens with a fanciful title sequence, inspired by the graphics of women’s magazines and 1960s posters. Hair spray, heavy lipstick, and conventional “cover girl” imagery set the stage for the appearance of Pepa (Carmen Maura), an actress who works in television and is currently employed in the dubbing of an American film.

She is the woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. As she is about to be abandoned by her livein lover Ivan (Fernando Guillen), also an actor and involved in dubbing the same film, Pepa realizes she is pregnant. She would like to tell Ivan, but is unable to contact him.

The film finds her in a deep slumber, provoked by the substantial doses of sleeping pills she takes. She fails to be woken by the half dozen alarm clocks which surround her bed. She will be late to work. She dreams in black and white that Ivan is busy flirting with every woman he meets in the street, whispering a filmworthy line to each one.

In the dubbing room, a camera rolls. Technical details on the mechanism which produces artificial dreams. Pepa and Ivan separately dub Joan Crawford and Sterling Hayden in a fiery western by Nicholas Ray (Johnny Guitar, 1954). Life and cinema are out of synch. The telephone complicates matters – instead of bringing the parties closer, it creates new barriers with the intervention of the answering machine.

With the story thus set in motion, there is nothing to be done but proceed at its everincreasing pace, from one plot twist to the next, as if it were a clockwork ballet. The enterprising Pepa, always in action, is presented in counterpoint to other women, played by the actresses Julieta Serrano, Rossy de Palma, Maria Barranco, Kiti Manver, and Loles Leon, all dressed up to the nines in high heels, fishnet stockings, tight skirts, flashy jewelry, odd little hats…

Each time Pepa is about to make contact with Ivan, something unexpected happens. In the end, knowing he is in danger because one of his exes has gone crazy and is trying to kill him, she manages to reach him and save his life. Having seen him again, however, she decides to let him go, keeping her secret and her child to herself.

In The Flower of my Secret (La flor de mi secreto, 1993) Leocadia, known as Leo (Marisa Paredes), writes romantic fiction under the pseudonym Amanda Gris, but privately is tormented by the failure of her marriage. She is madly in love with her husband Paco (Imanol Arias), a NATO official always on mission, whom she misses like crazy. But Paco shows little interest in her. He is in love with another woman, the psychologist Betty (Carme Elias), Leo’s close friend and only confidante. The latter finds out the bitter truth through a series of plot twists, which go hand in hand with the misunderstandings created by the false identity behind which she conceals her literary activities.

Thus depression, attempted suicide, and lastminute rescue at the hands of Leo’s mother, an elderly countrywoman who hates the chaotic life of Madrid, and removes her daughter to the fresh air of their hometown so that she can recover.

Leo’s story – which finds a happy ending in the flowering of a new love between the writer and Angel (Juan Echanove), a journalist who edits the literary section of El Pais — is entwined with the story of Blanca (Manuela Vargas), a waitress who is passionate about flamenco. Her son Antonio (Joaquin Cortes), a penniless dancer and choreographer, having stolen the manuscript of a novel which Leo had binned as unpublishable, has managed to sell it to director Bigas Luna, who wants to make a film of it. With his earnings, Antonio has put together a show in which he dances with his mother to reveal extraordinary artistic talent – proof of the fact that life always has some happy surprise in store for those who do not give in to dismay, and trust in the future.

From comedy to drama

All About my Mother (Todo sobre mi madre, 1999). Manuela (Cecilia Roth), a nurse who deals with transplants, loses her eighteenyearold son Esteban (Eloy Azorin) in an accident. The boy dies after being run over by a car while chasing Huma Rojo (Marisa Paredes), an actress starring in a performance of the play A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams. After the tragedy, Manuela decides to return to her hometown of Barcelona, to bring news of her son’s death to her exhusband Esteban, a transvestite who goes by the name of Lola (Toni Canto).

Manuela’s arrival in Barcelona is spectacular. The city, dominated by the spires of the Sagrada Familia, conveys an idea of paradise from above. Immediately afterwards, the taxi which takes Manuela from the airport to the hotel passes through a sort of infernal bedlam. Sex and drugs are sold while transvestites, transsexuals, and other dubious characters work alongside “normal” prostitutes, in a jumble which some critics call Fellinilike, but more appropriately might be labelled Boschlike.

Here Manuela meets Agrado (Antonia San Juan), an old friend, who saves her from a dangerous attack. Agrado puts Manuela in contact with Sister Rosa (Penelope Cruz), a young nun involved in social work, who can put her in touch with Lola.

Later in the film, which is inclined towards melodrama and not lacking in plot twists, Manuela, accompanied by Agrado, meets the actress Huma, who is romantically involved with her assistant Nina (Candela Pena). They create a quartet which allows for multiple role swaps.

Meanwhile, we find out that Sister Rosa is pregnant with Lola’s child (Lola who was once Esteban, father of the young Esteban who died). Lola, having contracted HIV/AIDS, has also given it to Rosa. Rosa’s family, whose conformism is stigmatized throughout the film by its pitiless description, is unable to take care of her. Assisted by Manuela and Agrado, Rosa dies in childbirth. Her boy (the third Esteban) is born needing special treatment to cure the illness inherited from his father.

Manuela adopts the child. Thus, she is returned to motherhood. During Rosa’s funeral, the first Esteban (now Lola) reappears, in the guise of the angel of death. His terminal illness is consuming him little by little. He barely has time to be reconciled with the past before bidding his farewell to life. The youngest Esteban responds positively to treatment and eliminates any traces of previous infection from his body.

Thus, summarized, the film’s plot might seem redundant and baroque. The story is rendered convincing by the sobriety of its style. They say that in the catalogue of human suffering there is nothing comparable to the pain of a mother at the loss of a child. During the filming of All About My Mother, Almodovar never ceased repeating to actress Cecilia Roth: “Cry as little as possible. Keep your tone of voice low.” And to the other actresses, too, he said: “Dry, dry, dry…”

The key phrase of this film is taken from a line of the play A Streetcar Named Desire, where one of the characters (Blanche Dubois) says that she has faith in the kindness of strangers. Solidarity among women is the central theme. Mutual help is offered spontaneously by women who live in hardship. Manuela, who suffers most of all, is the one who most strives to help others.

The living and the dead

Talk to Her (Hable con ella, 2002). Always looking for the extreme, this time Almodovar comes across the unmoving, but still living, bodies of two women in a coma. Two pairs of characters (one male, one female) experience situations proceeding along parallel courses, but in opposite directions. The two women, because of traumatic accidents, lie suspended between life and death. The two men who look after them, connected to them by intense ties of affection, meet in the corridors of the hospital where the women have been admitted to neighboring rooms.

One of the two men, Benigno (Javier Camara), speaks to his woman, Alicia (Leonor Watling), convinced that she can hear and understand everything he says. The other man, Marco (Dario Grandinetti), cannot find the right words to express his feelings when faced with the body of his beloved Lydia (Rosario Flores), who is incapable of responding. Alicia, the woman to whom Benigno speaks, comes out of her coma and survives. Lydia, the one to whom Marco does not speak, dies.

Terrible things happen in this film. Benigno, who works as a nurse in the hospital and is a little weak in the mind, is seized by a moment of madness and impregnates Alicia. The child is born dead before its mother awakes, while Benigno pays for his offence with jail, where he commits suicide without ever learning that Alicia has awoken.

It is important to recognize the delicacy with which Almodovar tackles his difficult themes, and the effort he makes to elevate his narration to a higher register of expression – using, among other things, the contribution of exceptional collaborators such as choreographer Pina Bausch and musician Caetano Veloso (woven into the fabric of the film with brief cameos of the iconic roles they play in real life), and including his protégé Geraldine Chaplin in the cast.

Bad Education

In Bad Education (2004) the story follows three interconnected, parallel timelines.

1980. Film director Enrique Godel (Fele Martinez) receives a visit from former boarding school friend Ignacio (Gael Garcia Bernal), who says that he is an actor and that his stage name is Angel. Enrique struggles to recognize him. In reality, Ignacio/ Angel is Juan, younger brother of the real Ignacio, who died four years previously. Angel asks Enrique to read his film script, entitled The Visit.

The plot of this script activates the second timeline. In 1977 the transvestite Zahara (i.e. Juan/Ignacio/Angel) visits the school where her brother, the real Ignacio, boarded as a boy with his classmate Enrique. In order to blackmail its director, Fr. Manolo (Daniel Gimenez Cacho), she shows him the story written by her brother, denouncing the abuse he suffered at the hands of the priest.

The reading of this text opens up the third timeline. In 1964 the young Ignacio makes friends with his classmate Enrique, and endures Fr. Manolo’s insistent harassment.

In the initial part of this film the story twists upon itself, causing the audience to lose any sense of the passing of time. The characters get confused with each other, to the point where it is difficult to understand what has really happened and what belongs to realm of makebelieve. Where is the truth? In 1980, in 1977, or in 1964? We will never know.

All the characters are divided between different lives, different stories, different faces. This laceration is concretely expressed in the image of Ignacio, as a child, falling and hurting his head while being chased by Fr. Manolo, during a trip to the countryside. Almodovar uses the rivulet of blood running down the child’s face to tear the image from top to bottom. From that moment onwards, Ignacio is aware of his ambiguity. “A rivulet of blood divided my forehead in two, and I had a feeling that the same would happen with my life: it would always be divided, and I’d never be able to do anything to prevent that.

Volver (2006). In a town of the Mancha region – Almodovar’s region of origin – women carefully clean the tombstones in a cemetery. A wide shot from right to left shows their work in detail and, at the same time, sets out the film’s theme, which consists in illustrating the relationship between the living and the dead as it was experienced until recently – and is still experienced, at least in part – in rural Spain.

Two sisters, Raimunda (Penelope Cruz) and Soledad, known as Sole (Lola Duenas), together with Paula (Yohana Cobo), Raimunda’s daughter, travel from Madrid to their native village to visit their elderly aunt Paula (Chus Lampreave). The latter is the sister of their mother and grandmother, who is believed to be dead, but in fact is not.

In Madrid, Sole works from home as a hairdresser. Raimunda works wherever she can as a cleaner. She has a goodfornothing husband, Paco (Antonio de Torres), who attempts to assault Paula while his wife is away. Paula, having grabbed a kitchen knife, kills him almost without realizing it. Paco is not Paula’s real father. Raimunda had become pregnant by her father before meeting her future husband, and Paco had agreed to assume paternity for the child.

The film proceeds with a series of complications. First of all, Raimunda needs to hide Paco’s body. Meanwhile, she is left in charge of a closed restaurant, during a brief absence of its owner. A cinema troupe working nearby asks for refreshments, and the enterprising Raimunda prepares delicious meals for some thirty people, including their final dinner.

Back in the village, aunt Paula dies. Neither Raimunda nor the young Paula can attend her solemn funeral, because they are occupied with other business. Sole attends and, without realizing it, brings her elderly mother Irene (Carmen Maura) back to Madrid in the trunk of her car. Irene is believed to be dead, whereas in fact she was hiding in her sister’s home and looking after her during her final illness.

Henceforth, Irene will wander amongst the living as if she were a ghost. Agustina (Blanca Portillo), a family friend who is suffering from a terminal illness, wants to know from the ghost whether her mother, who disappeared without trace, is dead or alive. Following the thread of this request, little by little we discover the family’s dark secrets, which the dead had taken with them to their graves, and which are brought back to life by the living, who establish a relationship with the dead which will last as long as their memory lasts.

Game of mirrors

Broken Embraces (Los abrazos rotos, 2009). Cinematography, as an audiovisual technique, is considered an extension of sight and sound. But our senses can mislead us. Skillfully used, the technical perfection of cinematography can be a game changer: it can make what is false appear true, or make the truth appear false. We have already seen in his other films how Almodovar loves to play on different levels, creating in the cinema what cannot be found in real life, rendering visible what is invisible in reality – finding in the cinema the flip side of reality, which is to say the irrefutable proof of reality’s ambiguity.

Mateo (Lluis Homar), a cinema director always on the lookout for an opportunity to make money, is in love with the beautiful Lena (Penelope Cruz), who passionately loves him back. But Lena is with Ernesto (Jose Luis Gomez), a wealthy industrialist of unlimited resources. Ernesto loves Lena with a possessive and destructive love which, naturally, is not returned.

Mateo makes Lena the star of the film he is directing. To prevent his woman being lured away, Ernesto becomes the producer (i.e. the owner) of the film, and puts his son, also named Ernesto (Ruben Ochandiano), in charge of filming work backstage. Using the material filmed by his son, Ernesto senior is able to decipher the secrets which Lena and Mateo exchange on set, with the help of an expert lipreader (Lola Duenas). Thus he finds out that his woman not only does not love him, but actually hates him.

A film (the backstage takes) about a film (Mateo’s) within a third film (Almodovar’s), in which the director plays on the relationship between sound and image (the lip movements that require an expert’s intervention to be interpreted…). The tangle is such that a dedicated student of communication sciences might go crazy with joy.

Lena notices that Ernesto junior is spying on her on his father’s behalf. Having unsuccessfully attempted to rip the camera from him, she speaks directly into the lens and, from the screen, tells Ernesto senior what she thinks of him.

Lena appears in the room where Ernesto is watching his son’s filming. “Focus on me!” Now she is doing her own voiceover of the silent film. Alternated onscreen we see closeups of her acting mutely, with her own voice overlaid, and closeups of her speaking aloud. An admirable game of mirrors between the reality “stolen” from cinema and the fiction which destroys an apparent reality, in search of the true one.

Another exciting moment comes when Lena and Mateo, conscious of the precariousness of their condition as clandestine lovers, are watching on television a sequence from the film Journey to Italy, by Rossellini. The sequence is the one where a couple in crisis (played by George Sanders and Ingrid Bergman) are present at the finding, amongst the ruins of Pompeii, of a plaster cast of the bodies of a married couple, who died in each other’s embrace during the eruption of Vesuvius. Lena, seeing their embrace rendered eternal by the lava, tells Mateo that she, too, wants to die like that. Mateo takes his camera and, using its selftimer, takes a picture of himself embracing Lena. Will this be their eternity?

The Skin I Live In (La piel que habito, 2011). Doctor Ledgard (Antonio Banderas), an esteemed plastic surgeon, is a man of power, confident and determined. Heir to the mad scientist who often appears in horror films, Ledgard is a witchdoctor who pushes the boundaries of science in the depths of his laboratory. Consequently, he decides to ignore the ethics of medicine in pursuit of a terrible personal vendetta.

Almodovar’s discourse on the transience of identity and the metamorphosis of bodies is tied in this film to a conversation about power, control and abuse.

During a rather wild party, the young Vicente (Jan Cornet) attempts to assault Norma (Blanca Suarez), Ledgard’s underage daughter, who is traumatized and kills herself. Hence the vendetta of her father, who captures Vicente and, using advanced scientific procedures bordering on science fiction, transforms him into a girl whom he names Vera (Elena Anaya), and to whom he gives the features of his wife, who also committed suicide.

The relationship of submission and sadism established between the doctor and his victim, held in a luxurious villa, undergoes a transformation, however, as the budding Pygmalion falls in love with his creation.

The film moves between reality and dream in the dark atmosphere of a thriller, entwining various flashbacks. A real descent into the hell of the mind of this scientist, who relives the finding of his daughter’s violated body in a forest worthy of a horror tale.

The menacing atmosphere of the forest contrasts, in another flashback, with the ascetic and excessively illuminated atmosphere of the operating theatre, where Vicente is transformed from a young man devoted to drugs and predatory sex into the masterpiece of the scientistturnedartist.

The love he feels for Vera is not lucky for Ledgard. The girl – once a boy – takes advantage of his love to regain her freedom, although, from now onwards, she will have to be content with living in a skin which is not her own.

On Noah’s ark

It is time to return to Julieta. We had left the woman, disconsolate, watching young girls play basketball. A second casual encounter with Bea brings more news of her daughter Antia, who lives in Switzerland with her family, and has found out that her mother still lives in their old apartment in Madrid.

Ava, her sculptor friend, who is afflicted by a terminal illness, informs Julieta of the obstructive role played by Marian (Rossy de Palma), Xoan’s housekeeper, secretly in love with her boss and jealous of his new wife, who had sowed discord between mother and daughter.

In the end, Julieta receives a letter from Antia, who writes that the eldest of her three children, a nineyearold boy, lost his life while swimming in a stream. Wracked with suffering, Antia understands the pain she herself inflicted on her mother when she left her without a word.

Julieta leaves immediately for Switzerland. To Lorenzo, who drives her in the car, she says: “I won’t ask any questions. I won’t say anything. I’ll only try to be there for her, if she lets me…” “She’s the one who included her address in the letter,” says Lorenzo.

Thus, ends Almodovar’s latest film. A glimmer of light opens up in the life of a woman who, because of her sinister fate, had become a prisoner to the judgements made of her, which were never rendered explicit in words, but expressed in the enigmatic, severe looks of people who misread her actions, attributing intentions which never crossed her mind.

This rapid digression through Almodovar’s cinematography does not end with his latest film, but with a step back to his penultimate film, I’m So Excited (Los amantes pasajeros, 2013). A simple accident caused by two airport workers in Madrid produces a breakdown in the undercarriage of an airplane on its way to Mexico City. Suspended in the sky above Toledo, waiting to return to their starting point, passengers and crew meet and confront each other, entwining their destinies. In order to calm everyone down, the stewards and hostesses mix sleeping pills and some drugs into the drinks they serve to their passengers, who fall asleep.

All sorts of different characters are on this airplane: Norma (Cecilia Roth), a bondage teacher, who is in danger because an assassin hired to kill her is on the same flight; Bruna (Lola Duenas), a soothsayer anxious to lose her virginity; Ricardo (Guillermo Toledo), a telenovelas star, who continues to communicate with land via calls to his exes; Mr. Mas (Jose Luis Torrijo), a banker on the run from a series of illegal financial operations; a couple of newlywed drug addicts on their honeymoon (Miguel Angel Silvestre and Laya Marti).

Time passes, and all sorts of things happen on the airplane. Having used up its emergency fuel, the plane lands at the same airport from which it had departed. Nothing has happened. But the momentary release from inhibition, under the effect of sleeping pills and drugs, ensures that something has changed in the life of every survivor.

The airplane in I’m So Excited is like a metaphorical Noah’s ark, welcoming a sample of the disparate cases which Almodovar has described in his films, painting them in grotesque colors, but without neglecting the sense of life’s tragedy hiding behind each one.

On this airplane there might be a place for the unbalanced heroes of the movida in Labyrinth of Passion, the nuns in Dark Habits, with their spoiled tiger cub, the tragic lovers in Law of Desire, the eccentric Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown; a place for Leo, lost in the city, and her mother, the lover of fresh country air, in The flower of my Secret, for the devoted friends in All About my Mother, the women in a coma in Talk to Her, the abused boarding school students in Bad Education, the ghosts in Volver, the lovers seeking immortality amongst the ruins of Pompeii in Broken Embraces, the crazy scientist and his victims in The skin I Live In, and of course for Julieta and Antia, mother and daughter finally reunited.