The Festival de Cannes loves Pedro Almodovar and audiences seem to love his new film. At this morning’s first screening of “Volver,” some journalists in the Lumiere Theater clapped when his name came on screen and at the end of the movie; even more of them broke out in applause. If attendees were waiting for a favorite film to emerge early in the festival, many may just have found one. Already a hit in Almodovar’s native Spain, “Volver” (Spanish for “To Return”) will have its official Festival de Cannes premiere tonight and then the talk of about whether the filmmaker might finally win the Palme d’Or will begin.
Calling his new film “Volver” his “deepest return to my roots,” Pedro Almodovar goes back to La Mancha, where he was born, to explore the story of a group of women. The characters were inspired by women from his own childhood, the Spanish filmmaker explained this morning at the Festival de Cannes during a press conference following the first screening of his film here at the festival.
“Volver” begins on a blustery, sunny day as a group of women in a cemetery clean the gravestones of the dead. Penelope Cruz stars as a young woman with teenaged daughter and an out of work husband, her own mother killed in a tragic fire in a small windy town in La Mancha. The dead grandmother, played by Carmen Maura, returns to visit the women in her life and the many secrets of their own family are revealed over the course of the film.
“More than about death itself, the screenplay talks about the rich culture that surrounds death in the region of La Mancha, where I was born,” Almodovar wrote in an entry of his production diary that was published in indieWIRE. “It is about the way (not tragic at all) in which various female characters, of different generations, deal with this culture.”
For Almodovar, the writing and making of “Volver” seems to provide an opportunity for him to both look back at his own life, in particular his youth, and also consider his future and come to terms with death.
“In my last two films, I talk about my childhood, my education,” Almodovar explained, This is a much softer childhood — how can I put it — its more productive. I talk about all the women around me. I was educated by women.”
“So ‘Volver’ actually talks about all of this, its talks about how I grew up — I grew up listening to these women,” he continued Friday. “I listened to them sing…I think this is how I really learned about drama… they told extraordinary tales that impressed me deeply.”
While the inspiration was from his own life, however, Almodovar said Friday, as he said when he talked about “Bad Education” in Cannes ’04 years ago, the film is fictional. “My films are all based on fiction,” Almodovar explained, “While I try to insure that the fiction is believable, the fiction is based on real characters, real situations, real things, but the story is pure fiction.”
For Almodovar, particularly in such recent films, the work seems to provide an almost therapeutic means for coping with his own life. “For me, film is in one way or another always a sort of harbinger of what may occur in the future, I try out things that I will then later feel or experience,” Almodovar said, “I believe that films have something magic in them in general, this is a theory that I uphold — films maybe talk about our future.”
Finally, asked the inevitable question about whether he has been tempted lately to make a movie in Hollywood, Almodovar said that while he hasn’t found the right U.S. project, he did consider one recent film. “I’ve had some doubts (about making a film in America),” he said, “I was offered ‘Brokeback Mountain’, (that was) the only one I thought about for some time.”
And as for the inevitable buzz about awards, whether Palme’s or Oscars, Almodovar said Thursday that he doesn’t consider such things when making a film. “When you are writing a script there isn’t a single neuron that is free to think about future awards or prizes. You don’t think beyond the film. When I write I try to make sure that each story is a passion for me. This is what happened with the 16 films I have shot.”
Meanwhile Penelope Cruz, who is sure to elicit talk of awards for her lead role in “Volver,” spent most of Friday’s press conference praising Almodovar. “There is only one Pedro, for me he is my priority in every way. He writes for women who are 14, 30, 45, 60, 80. He creates characters for women of all ages. For sure my career would not be the same without him, my life would not be the same.”
[Get the latest from the Festival de Cannes throughout the day in indieWIRE’s special Cannes ’06 section.]