Photography by Xevi Muntané
A banker, a movie star, a dominatrix, an assassin, and a sex-obsessed virgin with psychic powers are all trapped on a plane with broken landing gear. It sounds like the opening to a dirty and very complex joke, but actually it’s the plot of I’m So Excited! -- the uproarious, lightning-paced, 36,000-feet-over-the-top new comedy from Pedro Almodóvar (the film opens in the U.S. June 28). Fans of the revered Spanish filmmaker have watched him mature into a masterful director of intense dramas and dark thrillers. But I’m So Excited! marks a return to the high camp of his early career; it’s his most outrageous film, and his most flamboyant, in a decade or more.
“His energy, his focus, his passion: Everyone says the same things about Pedro and his films, but that’s the truth,” says Javier Cámara, who stars in I’m So Excited! as one of three gay flight attendants who lip sync a fierce rendition of the Pointer Sisters’ title song -- when they’re not drugging the passengers or fellating the pilots. Cámara is no stranger to the director’s world: He played a suspiciously tender nurse in Almodóvar’s 2002 masterpiece Talk to Her and a thieving drag queen with a traumatic past in 2004’s gloomy Bad Education. For this film, Almodóvar spent months assembling the ideal cast (including blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos from Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz as, of all things, airport baggage handlers), and even longer honing their performances. “He kept on rewriting the script, tailoring it to the specific actors and the current situation,” says Cámara. “The fact that we were going to be locked up on a plane for months also required extra rehearsals; Pedro rehearsed it with us as if we were doing a play. Maybe for his return to comedy he wanted to be like a tamer surrounded by beasts.”
The passengers in Almodóvar’s rather swank business-class cabin -- who include All About My Mother heroine Cecilia Roth and Volver star Lola Dueñas -- cope with the plane’s troubles by knocking back mescaline-spiked cocktails and seducing other flyers in varying states of consciousness. The dialogue, meanwhile, comes fast and furious, like an old Hollywood screwball comedy, but in Spanish and much sluttier. (You’ll learn a lot of gay slang for your next night out in Madrid, maricón.) According to Cámara, the cast prepared by watching classic films by Ernst Lubitsch and Billy Wilder, as well as Almodóvar’s sassier early movies. “But Pedro’s someone who likes to go beyond the genres, even to transform them,” the actor says. “Even in his most heartbreaking dramas, there are moments of hilarious comedy.”
At first it may seem strange that Almodóvar has made such a campy film at a very bleak time for Spain. The ongoing European debt crisis has not just devastated the Spanish economy; it’s devastating Spanish culture, too, and at this year’s Goya Awards, Spain’s equivalent of the Oscars, one actor after another took to the stage to denounce the government’s cuts to film funding. Yet although the crisis isn’t mentioned explicitly, I’m So Excited! is very much a contemporary film. One character is under investigation for financial fraud and corruption, while the airport where the plane makes its emergency landing is an unused shell, built during the boom years and abandoned after the bubble has burst. Almodóvar’s campiness and his engagement with the present go hand in hand -- which, for Cámara, is totally natural.
“Pedro absorbs everything that surrounds him -- good and bad things,” the actor says. “It is a subtle but heavy critique. It’s just normal that the current economic crisis transpired somehow in the film, because Pedro has always been a mirror of Spanish society.” And even in this crisis-stricken moment, the reflection is just fabulous.
MIGUEL ÁNGEL SILVESTRE
Miguel Ángel Silvestre is a wild animal in search of a tamer -- a wild animal in all its splendor. He knows he’s hot, but he avoids clichés. I can see him pinned up on the walls of a workshop run by gay mechanics, but above all I see him exposing himself in daring roles with crazy, rule-breaking directors. He’d have been the perfect Joe Dallesandro, from the Warhol factory. But as we’re inventing stories, I see two very obvious paths in his future: One leads him to Italy, and the other to Marlon Brando. He would be perfect for a role like Brando’s in On the Waterfront, and also, when he’s older and has suffered a little, he’d move us as the desperate Brando did in Last Tango in Paris. And, of course, squeezed into a sweaty T-shirt, he’s the ideal Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire. I don’t see him as a barrel when he gets older, which happened to Brando. In Italy, he would have played supporting roles with Visconti, leading roles with Pasolini, Valerio Zurlini, De Sica, Dino Risi, and Ettore Scola -- neorealist comedies with characters who are laborers, bus drivers, fishermen, grocery store assistants, or running a trattoria where he makes the pasta himself every day.
He could become the king of romantic comedy and of The Hangover -- the kind of comedy packed with excess. I foresee a great future for him in both genres. Those eyelids at half-mast and his laidback attitude go very well with characters who are charming, absent-minded, blunderers, loafers, and buddies. Without false modesty, I think that I’m So Excited! will broaden his work horizon. He isn’t excessively handsome, but girls like him -- they fall for that slightly cross-eyed smile. In the super-gay choreography of I’m So Excited! he exudes charm and salaciousness. An actor with a wide register, I see him, like Miguel Ángel Silvestre, reviving the best Italian comedy of the ’60s. I’d love to direct him in a drama as the kind of sweet psychopath that Javier Cámara played so well in Talk to Her (forgive the self-reference). And I would really struggle between Javier and Raúl if Hollywood calls me to direct the remake of The Apartment by Billy Wilder.
Carlos Areces is the stuff of subgenre, Z terror: vampires, zombies, Martians, swords-and-sandals, cheap sci-fi, poxy esotericism, impossible espionage—all the aberrations imaginable by novel directors and the worst underground. All these subs will be a wonderful school until he gets a call from Tarantino, to whom I intend recommending him. But the interesting thing about Carlos is that he is also gifted for the noble reverse of all these subgenres, and those are the performances I predict for him in the future. He is a natural child of Akim Tamiroff, Zero Mostel, Margaret Rutherford, Peter Lorre, and Rosalind Russell (I’m sorry for being erudite; you’ll have to fall back on IMDb). He could also do biblical comedies with Monty Python and all those mellifluous, perverse roles played by Charles Laughton. He makes a wonderful pair with Javier Cámara (Javier is going to be in big demand because he makes a very good pair with many actors). I’d love to direct a stage version of Jean Genet’s The Maids that would be called The Manservants (I’m not joking) where the master would be Miguel Ángel Silvestre and the manservants Javier and Carlos.
Javier Cámara is a supremely gifted actor. He has a very distilled technique that isn’t noticeable. An all-purpose performer, he is one of the greats and will be even more so within 30 years. Javier will be a very good husband, abandoned by his wife or by his husband. And he will be a very good father -- I’m talking about fiction, in roles that have yet to arrive. He operates in the broadest spectrum of tones, genres, authors, and types of cinema. He’ll be wonderful as an actor in artsy cinema and will stand out in the same way in blockbusters. In both senses, he is the legitimate heir to the Spanish actor José Luis López Vázquez. I see him performing brilliantly in Chekhov, Jardiel Poncela, and Eduardo de Filippo. In Cabaret he could be the master of ceremonies or Sally Bowles herself. I repeat: He is one of the greats and one of ours. A very Spanish actor.