Don Pedro de La Mancha
by Carlo D'Ursi
14/03/2006 - Almodóvar's 16th feature film takes the director back to his roots, in La Mancha, and also marks his return to women’s stories and comedy, after the darker tone of his male-driven dramas
Cineuropa: How did the idea for the film come about?
Pedro Almodóvar: The idea came as I was shooting The Flower of My Secret, another film set in La Mancha. It was one of the stories Marisa Paredes told, something I had read that took place in Puerto Rico. It was about man whose wife left him and he could not longer communicate with her. So he thought that a sure way to see her again was to kill his mother-in-law. His wife would attend the funeral and he could tell her how much he loved and missed her. This character, who appears briefly in the film, owns a restaurant that he leaves in his neighbour’s care when he is about to kill his mother-in-law. That neighbour was Raimunda. As she was the starting point of the story, I though that in order to make her interesting she would need to have a big problem. I decided she would also have to deal with death. I am not sure if the man from Puerto Rico killed his wife's mother, but that was where the idea for the film came from.
Volver is the portrait of a dark, bleak Spain, which contrasts your colourful and passionate style. Did you want to use Franco’s "dark" Spain to then expose the passion of its people, despite the dictatorship?
I wanted revenge, the kind of revenge that sometimes may take centuries to carry out and that a grandchild, or the nephews of nephews, might still carry on their shoulders. I think this happens everywhere in Spain, not only in La Mancha. It was important for me to show another, totally different Spain, where life goes on, despite the cruel acts that have taken place in the so-called darker Spain. La Mancha is a region with a great tradition of tragedies.
To what extent is Volver a portrait of Pedro Almodóvar?
I became very fragile when I started doing the film, but it was not the type of fragility that makes you more vulnerable. Let's say I became softer. There was a more rigid part of my life that, after this film, became a little more relaxed. It was a healthy process, although I don't do films to solve my problems. It's almost the opposite: I do films so that they can become something revulsive in my life. However, when I started shooting, I never imagined that those characters I knew from when I was a boy would actually appear to me when going back to the places of my childhood. I hardly ever go back to La Mancha, but when I do, I feel like a little boy. There, I am not an internationally acclaimed director but the eight or ten year-old kid I was when I left the place, a kid who was very much disturbed by all the chaos there. When I wrote the script, I knew we would shoot in some places from my childhood, but I was hardly imagined that it would become such an emotional journey. This film brings back memories of my mother and father and exposes a fragility that I thought I had overcome. I am grateful for that.
Is the film going to compete in Cannes ?
Going to Cannes doesn't depend on me. Or it does, but only partially. I was asked to send the film, which I did, and afterwards I asked the girls if they would fancy walking around the Croisette, showing off their outfits and it seems that they would. As Bad Education was the opening film in Cannes, maybe this time Volver could be the closing film, although that isn’t very interesting. I would like the film to be shown in competition, but I haven’t received an answer so far.
Is Penelope Cruz's character a mix of Sophia Loren and Anna Magnani in their heyday?
In creating a character, it is essential to think about their looks. Penélope's character is a very modest cleaning lady. Right from the start, I thought of the Italian maggiorate from the 1950s because here the traditional image of a housewife is closer to ugliness than it is to beauty. I didn't want Penelope to look ugly. Not all the girls who suffer at home have to be ugly or prostitutes. To emphasize the problems between Penelope and her daughter, I was inspired by Sophia Loren’s more working-class side, that of the former Neapolitan fishmonger. I also saw some photos of Claudia Cardinale from Girl With a Suitcase and I liked her hairstyle. Penelope looks amazing. Her make-up was inspired by late 50s/early 60s fashion. The reference to Anna Magnani is obvious as I included an excerpt of Bellisima in the film. To me, she is the picture of motherhood.
Lastly, I would like to ask yourself a question and then answer it, as you did in the Bad Education pressbook.
Well, I am going to answer two questions. First of all, the same thing that Carmen Maura asks Penélope in the film. No, Penelope did not have a breast surgery. She has these amazing breasts and you can see as she moves that they’re real. The second answer is also "No". I am not going to be the father of Penélope's son. We are not pregnant.