When Lena falls into Ernesto Martel's clutches she has all the attributes of the "femme fatale", dark, ambitious beauty, a humble past and a family in a precarious situation, the intelligence not to resign herself and to take risks; but she has too many scruples and she lacks cynicism. Her love for Mateo precipitates her tragedy, even though she would have eventually left the tycoon and he wouldn't have allowed it.
Lena isn't a "femme fatale", she's condemned to misfortune.
Mateo, Lena and Ernesto Senior make up a typical "noir" trio. The three love fiercely and one is very powerful, violent and unscrupulous. Combustion is served. The trio is flanked by Judit García, who brings treachery, a secret son and a guilt complex to the group, ingredients that will make the relationship between the four even thicker.
Film "noir" is one of my favourite genres. I'd already moved in that direction in "Live Flesh" and "Bad Education" and I've done so again in "Broken Embraces".
The scene of Ernesto Senior's feet, walking up to and then away from the door of the room where Lena is, followed by the scene on the staircase are definitely "noir".
After an hour's narrative, the scene on the staircase reveals the genre to which the film belongs, and that sensation of blackness doesn't leave us until the end.
UP AND DOWN
The staircase is a real cinematic icon. It suggests the idea of displacement, and movement is what differentiates cinema from photography. I remember the staircase which the pregnant Gene Tierney throws herself down in "Leave Her to Heaven" (John M. Stahl), along with "Él", by Luis Buñuel, the best film about the madness of jealousy.
I remember Richard Widmark tying a paralytic woman to her wheelchair with a telephone wire and pushing her from the top of a staircase because the woman refused to reveal her son's whereabouts, in "Kiss of Death", by Henry Hathaway. A horrifying thriller and a horrifying Richard Widmark.
The steps in "Battleship Potemkin" by Eisenstein are the mother of all steps, undoubtedly, the most impressive scene with steps that cinema has ever given us. Brian de Palma's tribute in "The Untouchables" is also memorable.
And the operatic grandeur of the final scene of "The Godfather, Part III" or the great red staircase on which Vivien Leigh loses her baby in "Gone with the Wind". Or Norman Bates and Baby Jane (Anthony Perkins and Bette Davis in "Psycho" and "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, respectively) two deadly characters if you meet them at the top of a staircase.
Gothic terror, epic drama and the thriller are genres that have made the most of staircases. But so have the crazy comedy and the musical. I remember a number in Busby Berkeley's "Ziegfeld's Girl" that consisted exclusively of a group of young ladies, among whom were Lana Turner and Hedy Lamarr, coming down endless, winding stairs, while placed inside enormous costumes.
Without intending to compare myself with all the above, I feel very proud of the staircase scene in "Broken Embraces", a sequence that is the backbone of the narrative.
Once again duplicity.
In Lanzarote, Lena and Mateo are looking at the impressive Golfo Beach. Mateo is taking photos, while Lena embraces him from behind. They don't see them, but down below, on the beach of black sand, an embracing couple mirrors them.
Mateo discovers them when he prints the photo (the eye of the camera sees farther than the human eye) and pins it on the wall of the bungalow where they have taken refuge. The photo reflects Mateo and Lena's situation better than any other image does. They are fugitives, alone in the immensity of the volcanic island, melding one with the other, blending into the landscape, like the couple in the photo.
I had taken the photo which we used nine years ago, on my first visit to Lanzarote. The island had bewitched me. I'd never seen such dramatic colors in nature. For me it wasn't a landscape, it was a mood, a character. From that moment I wanted to film there.
My first visit to Lanzarote occurred at a very special moment. My mother had died a few months before. My spirits, still in mourning, found reflection and consolation in the blackness of the island, a kind of soothing energy. I was more aware that my mother's death had made me into an adult.
Just as in my youth I'd been trapped by the technicolors of the Caribbean, my trip to Lanzarote first developed my fascination for black and the more somber semitones of red, green, brown and grey. As confirmation of the island's mystery, I took the photo on Golfo Beach. Like Mateo, I hadn't seen the couple embracing at the bottom of the photo. I discovered them when a 24-hour developing store gave me the print. The landscape was incredible but what really struck me was the discovery of the couple embracing, alone, minute against the immensity of the landscape. Obsessed as I am with my work, (thinking perhaps about the photo taken in the London park in "Blow Up" which, when enlarged, revealed a body hidden in the bushes) I imagined that there was a secret behind that furtive embrace and that I had the photographic evidence of it. I wanted to know everything about the couple, or at least some detail with which to spin a fictional story.
I looked for the couple during the remainder of my stay on Lanzarote, but I couldn't find them. I imagined their situation and I wrote various fictional options that ended with the solitary embrace, but none of them was of interest.
I went back to Lanzarote and searched again in its volcanic landscape for a story that would include the embrace on Golfo Beach, without finding anything that satisfied me. The secret of the embrace was reluctant to reveal itself. I still had the island, as a setting. I tried to introduce it into all the scripts I wrote from then on but I didn't find the story that could include it until 2007-2008, when I finished the script of "Broken Embraces".
Lanzarote would be the island where Lena and Mateo hid, Famara their refuge, their Pompeii, and the roundabout their Vesuvius. They were the couple on Golfo Beach, as Lena tells Mateo while she cuts and peels fruit in the kitchen of the bungalow in Famara.
PARENTS AND CHILDREN. THE MONOLOGUE
One of the important themes in the film is the relationship between parents and children, maternity and paternity. The family, in short.
The monologue of "The anthropophagous councilwoman", which will also appear on the DVD as a short, is the child of "Girls and Suitcases". We could say it's a spin off of Carmen Machi's brief but hilarious character.
I didn't film it in order to include it in "Broken Embraces", although it complements the film, but once it was written, and even though I didn't have time, I shot it in one day. It was a prank, a whim and a liberation, something I've committed in other stages of my life and which I hadn't allowed myself to do for a long time.
In the monologue about the erotic fantasies of a councilwoman for social affairs I recover that free, playful, very politically incorrect, irrepressible, crude tone of the "Patty Diphusa" of the early 80s. I confess that it was a refreshing, liberating experience, and an enormous pleasure to see how the great Carmen Machi performed it. I was also delighted to see that that tone is still there, that it hasn't disappeared with maturity, the grey hair and the headaches.
DECLARATION OF LOVE
Cinema plays a very important role in all my films. I don't do it as a pupil revering those directors who have preceded him. I don't make films "in the style of". When a director or a film appears in one of mine, it's in a more active way than as a simple homage or a nod at the spectator.
I could give a lot of examples. When in "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" Carmen Maura has to dub a sequence of "Johnny Guitar", I'm not paying tribute to Joan Crawford or Sterling Hayden or even to Nicholas Ray, one of my essential directors. I'm using his marvellous, heart-rending love scene ("Lie to me and tell me that you still love me the way I love you") in order to accentuate the loneliness and abandonment of THE character. Carmen (Pepa) is a dubbing actress, so is her lover Iván. That morning he isn't with her, dubbing Sterling Hayden as he was supposed to, because they've broken up and he is avoiding her. Iván went to the studio before she did so as not to meet her, and he dubbed his part alone, on a separate soundtrack. Pepa has to listen to his voice over the headphones and slot in her replies. She will never again hear words of love directly from Iván's lips, she can only listen to them over the headphones, in a recording studio. Her loneliness and abandonment are more obvious through the famous scene from "Johnny Guitar". At times, the best way I can transmit a character's feelings is by doing so through cinema, using words that another author wrote before I did.
In "High Heels", Victoria Abril and Marisa Paredes talk in a courtroom in the Supreme Court. Marisa, the mother and star, is horrified and can't understand why her daughter has accused herself publicly (on the TV news program which she presents) of the murder of her husband, who was also her mother's lover. In order to explain how she has felt about her mother since she was a little girl, Victoria tells her a scene from "Autumn Sonata", in which Liv Ullman has an unusual visit from her mother, a famous pianist, and she plays a sonata to flatter her and in her honor. The mother (Ingrid Bergman) thanks her unenthusiastically and then sits down at the piano and explains how that sonata should really be played. And that demonstration is the greatest humiliation the mother can inflict on her subdued, insignificant daughter. I could have said it was a homage to Bergman, one of my five key directors, but that isn't so (my great excitement about the stage version of "All about my mother" opening in Stockholm has got nothing to do with my vanity, but with that fact that it's performed in the same language that Bergman spoke). When Victoria Abril recounts the scene to Marisa Paredes she feels as insignificant and humiliated as Liv Ullmann. In the end she admits that she accused herself publicly on television of having murdered her husband, not just to cover up for her mother, who had killed him, but to get her attention. To tell her, with such an excessive gesture, how much she loved her.
In "Broken Embraces" I also use the transparent simplicity of Rossellini's "Voyage to Italy" to show the effect on Lena-Penélope of the discovery of the couple burned to death in Pompeii two thousand years earlier. I feel it's the first time I've made such an express declaration of love to cinema; not with a specific sequence, but with a whole film. To cinema, to its materials, to the people who give all they've got around the spotlights, to the actors, editors, narrators, those who write, to the screens which show the images of intrigues and emotions. To films as they were made at the moment they were made. To something that, although you can make a living from it, is not only a profession but also an irrational passion.
PEDRO ALMODÓVAR - BIOGRAPHY
He was born in Calzada de Calatrava, province of Ciudad Real, in the heart of La Mancha, in the 50s. When he was eight, he emigrated with his family to Estremadura. There he studied for his elementary and high school diplomas respectively with the Salesian Fathers and the Franciscans.
At seventeen, he left home and moved to Madrid, with no money and no job, but with a very specific project in mind: to study cinema and direct films. It was impossible to enrol in the Official Film School because Franco had just closed it. Despite the dictatorship that was suffocating the country, for an adolescent from the provinces Madrid represented culture, independence and freedom. He worked at many, sporadic jobs but couldn't buy his first Super-8mm camera until he got a "serious" job at the National Telephone Company of Spain in 1971. He worked there for twelve years as an administrative assistant, he shared this job in the mornings with other multiple activities which provided his real training as a filmmaker and as a person.
In the mornings, in the Telephone Company, he got an in-depth knowledge of the Spanish middle class at the start of the consumer era, the seventies, its dramas and its misfortunes, a real gold mine for a future story teller. In the evenings and nights, he wrote, loved, acted with the mythical independent theatre group Los Goliardos and made films in Super-8 (his only school as a filmmaker). He collaborated with various underground magazines and wrote stories, some of which were published. He was a member of a parodic punk-rock group, Almodóvar and McNamara, etc. And he had the good fortune that his personal explosion coincided with the explosion of the democratic Madrid of the last seventies, early eighties. That was the period the world knew as La Movida.
His films are the heirs and the witnesses of the brand new born Spanish democracy. After a year and a half of eventful shooting on 16mm, in 1980 he opened "Pepi, Luci, Bom", a no-budget film made as a cooperative effort with the rest of the crew and the cast, all beginners, except for Carmen Maura.
In 1986, he founded the production company El Deseo S.A. with his brother Agustín. Their first project was "Law of Desire". Since then, they have produced all the films that Pedro has written and directed, and have also produced other young directors.
In 1988, "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" brought him international recognition. Since then, his films have opened all around the world. With "All About my Mother" he won his first Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, and also the Golden Globe, the César, 3 European Film Awards, the David de Donatello, 2 BAFTAs, 7 Goyas and 45 other awards. Three years later, "Talk to Her" had the same or better fortune (Academy Award for Best Script, 5 European Film Awards, 2 BAFTAs, the Nastro de Argento, the César and many other awards throughout the world but not in Spain).
He produced four very special films, highly rated throughout the world for their valour and delicacy ("My Life Without Me", "The Holy Girl", "The Secret Life of Words" and "The Headless Woman", by Isabel Coixet and Lucrecia Martel alternatively).
In 2004, "Bad Education" was chosen to open the Cannes Festival. It received extraordinary reviews throughout the world. It was nominated for numerous awards (Independent Spirit Awards, BAFTAs, César, European Film Awards) and won the prestigious Award for Best Foreign Film given by the New York Critics' Circle and also the Nastro de Argento.
In 2006 he is awarded with the Prince of Asturias Award to the Arts. That very same year he presents "Volver" in competition in the Cannes Film Festival, where it got the Best Screenplay Award as well as the Best Actress Award for the six actresses of the film, leaded by Penélope Cruz. The film received 5 EFA awards, 5 Goya awards, the Fipresci award, the National Board of Review, and many others (up to 72). Penélope was nominated to the Best Actress Academy Award, being the first time a Spanish actress was nominated for a Spanish speaking film. Up to now, "Volver" has been his most popular film in terms of box office.
1974-1979 Various films of differing lengths on Super-8mm, including some on 16mm (Salomé)
1980 Pepi, Luci, Bom
1982 Labyrinth of Passions
1983 Dark Habits
1984-5 What Have I Done to Deserve This?!
1985 Trayler para amantes de lo prohibido (medium length, on video, for TVE)
1986 Law of Desire
1987 Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
1989 Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down
1991 High Heels
1992 Acción mutante (Producer)
1995 The Flower of my Secret
1997 Live Flesh
1999 All About my Mother
2000 The Devil's Backbone (Producer)
2001 Talk to Her
2002 My Life Without Me (Producer)
2003 Chill Out! (Producer)
2003 Bad Education
2004 The Holy Girl (Producer)
2005 The Secret Life of Words (Producer)
2008 The Headless Woman (Producer)