‘Loving Pablo’ Director on Reuniting Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz: ‘It’s Been Very Intense’

Loving Pablo
Courtesy of Venice Film Festival

Loving Pablo” — starring Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz, whose last on-screen romantic relationship was in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” for which Cruz won an Oscar — also marks the reunion of Spanish director Fernando León de Aranoa and Bardem, whose performance in León’s 2002 Goya-sweeping dramedy “Mondays in the Sun” served as confirmation, if it were needed after “Before Night Falls,” of Bardem’s acting range. Coming after León’s 2015 “A Perfect Day,” a Cannes Directors’ Fortnight player starring Benicio del Toro and Tim Robbins, “Loving Pablo” is a film León and Bardem have wanted to make for more than 14 years.

What will audiences find in this new take on drug lord Pablo Escobar?

The movie offers Pablo Escobar’s story, focused on his 10 years facing extradition. This is told from the perspective of Virginia Vallejo, a journalist who had a close relationship with Escobar and provides highly intimate access to Escobar’s mind.

How did Vallejo’s book contribute to “Loving Pablo”?

Her viewpoint’s very interesting: Very close and gritty. The book proposes a journey, from the dazzling power and opulence that Escobar projected at first to the reality behind,the darkness, pain and tragedy. It’s a journey that Virginia makes, and the movie and Colombian society as well.

How do you explain the current fascination with Escobar?

As a storyteller, it’s impossible not to feel attracted by a story like this — with its excess, disproportion and violence. He changed criminal history. He wasn’t one more tough guy. He invented drug trading, the sicariato — so-called murder-for-hire — and money laundering on a huge scale. This magnitude, and disproportion, deserved the big screen.

It also gels with Colombia magic realist literature.

It’s inevitable to think that. From Medellín’s communes and the motorcycle ranchos to Colombia’s presidential palace, the magnitude of the story is enormous and it lasts for a very long time.

You’ve also chosen actors of a certain magnitude.

Both characters are exceptional. For Escobar and Vallejo, it was a must to have two exceptional actors such as Javier and Penelope for characters that embark towards different abysses. It’s been very intense. We all know one other very well. This helped, although we were frightened about the work. I worked with Javier many years ago. I found an actor with greater experience but the original enthusiasm and commitment.

After “A Perfect Day,” your first English-language movie, are you thinking of a more international career?

I don’t know, honestly. I never think in terms of a career. I work movie-by -movie, decide the next project on the fly, intuitively, where passion drives me.

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