“Broken Embraces” (Abrazos Rotos) the new film by Pedro Almodovar is premiering today at the Cannes Film Festival. This essay, entitled “Declaration of Love,” is one of twelve written by Almodovar discussing his new film and its influences.
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 Ivan. 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. Ivan 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 Ivan’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-Penelope 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.
reprinted with persmission