Director Pedro Almodóvar has warned that remaining “imprisoned” at home after lockdown is a “dangerous habit,” for which the only antidote is cinema.
The iconic “Pain and Glory” and “Volver” director is in Venice for his short film and first English-language effort “The Human Voice,” starring Golden Lion recipient Tilda Swinton. Both were present at a Thursday afternoon press conference, alongside the filmmaker’s brother and producer Agustin Almodóvar, to discuss the film, which was shot in Madrid immediately after Spain’s lockdown ended.
“Lockdown has forced us all to stay at home and I think it’s proven a lot of things to us: it has proved what extent we all depend on fiction,” said Almodóvar, speaking in Spanish.
While the director allowed that “platforms have had an essential role” during this period, another outcome of lockdown “that’s negative and concerning” is that it has “shown us our homes are a place where we’re somehow imprisoned, because we can find the love of our life there, work there, have food delivered, and we don’t need to move from our homes to do all this. I find this very dangerous.”
“Companies have found people can work from home and it’s cheaper. I would oppose this forced reclusion with something else, because I wouldn’t like to see this imprisonment continue in the future,” said Almodóvar. “The antidote is the cinema, which is the opposite of all this.”
Cinema is “starting an adventure,” said the director. “Going out and getting dressed, walking in the street, regaining the life that’s in the streets, and being part of a place that’s dark and shared with people we don’t know…As a director I’d like to tell you this is very important. Films are meant to be seen by any means, but as a director and spectator, the fact that a film of mine is shown in a theater, that I can hear the spectators breathe, that gives the pulse of how much a film can excite people.”
Almodóvar said this contact and “meeting point with a spectator” is lost when films debut on Netflix, and urged cinemagoers to invite others out to movie theaters.
“I started this film immediately after lockdown. Next month, I’m starting my next film because, despite uncertainty, I have to go on, I need to keep making films. So you have to tell people to go to the cinemas and theaters, because some things will only be discovered in the dark with people that we don’t know.”
In Spain, where the director is based, coronavirus has so far claimed more than 29,000 lives. The country was faced with 480,000 cases in total.
The director’s remarks contrasted slightly with Swinton’s plea to Venice audiences earlier in the day. The actor said during her masterclass session that she’d “rather someone get a box set of [David Attenborough] or [Hayao Miyazaki] and be safe and inspired and stay out of those planes.” Swinton has, however, also championed the return to cinemas while she’s been in Venice.
Almodóvar teased two post-lockdown projects. Since “The Human Voice,” he has penned two titles: a 45-minute film and a 15-20-minute short. Describing them as “two screenplays I’d like to film with a true sense of liberty,” the director explained that one is a western but “a different western.”
“Both pieces are very theatrical, if you like. I don’t go as far as I used to, so I’m happier if I’m in one place. My back is also happier. That’s what I’ve been thinking of for my future, from a cinematographical point of view, of course,” he said. The literal translation of one of the screenplays — it’s unclear which one — is called “A Strange Form of Life.”
On working in the English language, Almodóvar said he wrote the film in Spanish and it was then translated into English. “We had two readings with Tilda. My English is not like hers, so there were some expressions that she considered more correct, and I gave her full freedom to change the wording,” he said.
“At the beginning, it was a bit difficult working in a different language, but as soon as the character became hers, it was brilliant. It was great to hear her speak in English. Of course, it’s her mother tongue, but I’d never heard that musicality before.”
Agustin Almodovar added that the film was “mainly an excellent experience” thanks to Swinton. “Early on, the English language was a bit of a problem, but after, we had the impression we were working with someone we’d been working with forever, so it brought a complicity that brought down all the walls and made these problems non-existent…At the end of some takes, we would all break out in applause because it was an interesting experience.”
Jean Cocteau’s original one-act play “The Human Voice” has long been a source of inspiration for Almódovar. Set in Paris, it turns on a woman’s final phone call with her lover of five years, who is scheduled to marry another woman the following day. The call triggers crippling depression in the protagonist. Almodóvar first featured the piece in 1987’s “The Law of Desire,” where Carmen Maura appeared in a stage production. It also inspired 1988’s “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” his first Oscar-nominated feature.
A clip of the 30-minute film launched last week.