A man comes up to me while I’m having breakfast in a bar. He tells me he’s seen “Bad Education” three times. I thank him, as I normally do.
The first time I fell asleep, the stranger explains.
Did it bore you so much?
No, on the contrary, he says. I was totally into it but I got sleepy and I let myself go. Then, of course, I went to see it again since the bit I had watched left me very intrigued.
I liked it better than the first time but, again, at one point I was so relaxed that I fell asleep once more. And the same thing happened the third time.
So, you still haven’t seen the whole film?
Actually, no, I haven’t. Now I’m waiting for it to come out in DVD so that I can watch it calmly at home.
This man seems to be a little over fifty, without any particularly striking characteristics. I wouldn’t know what a narcoleptic looks like, but he certainly doesn’t look like he has the sudden sleep syndrome. And he doesn’t seem to be joking either.
Well, I don’t know what to tell you, I say.
Don’t be offended, he adds, it’s just that when I like something a lot it relaxes me so much that I can actually go to sleep. It’s a really pleasant feeling, I mean it as a compliment. And, also… I’m currently taking some medication to curb anxiety and the doctor warned me that it could make me sleepy.
Then, there’s no doubt, I tell him emphatically, that has to be the explanation. You are falling asleep because of the pills, not because of my film!
Don’t you suffer from anxiety, anguish or desperation, he asks, unaware that his words are the lyrics of a bolero. My psychiatrist told me that these problems usually arise when one is around fifty. And, to make matters worse, I’m also appallingly afraid of death.
I point to the newspaper. I’ve just read an interview with Julian Barnes, the British writer, where he discusses his last book of short stories. Amongst other things he says that the myth stating that maturity brings serenity is a lie. In reality it is more like the opposite…
I agree, what’s the title of the book?
“The Lemon Table.” It’s a collection of short stories about death and the failure of elderly people to achieve serenity. But I’m not old, he tells me.
Nor am I, I say. Or Julian Barnes. But the three of us think that the years haven’t granted us that inner peace we heard so much about.
The spontaneous fan goes off to buy the book and I leave for my office where I have a meeting with three women and a screenplay.
The screenplay is called “Volver,” and it is precisely about death, but it deals with this subject in a less anguished manner than that of the man who fell asleep watching “Bad Education.” 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. It is about the way (not tragic at all) in which various female characters, of different generations, deal with this culture.
At the opposite side of my table, at my office in El Deseo, are three of the actresses that will star in “Volver.” Each of them embodies an important come back: The most awaited, Carmen Maura. And two additional come backs, full of sense and sensibility: Penelope Cruz, with whom I’ve worked twice before, an actress and a woman whom I adore both inside and outside of the sets. And Lola Duenas. I worked with Lola in “Hable con Ella“-“Talk to Her” (she was a nurse, a fellow worker of Javier Camara) and I felt like repeating the experience.
I’m extremely agitated about this meeting. Despite the fact that the role assigned to me in this circus is that of the tamer, it doesn’t mean that it’s easy for me to break the ice. But that’s what it means, amongst other things, to be a director (at least, in a European country). I’m the ice breaker, the chimney that heats up the atmosphere, the mother-father-psychiatrist-lover-friend who, with a simple word, can help you regain your self confidence.
Films, the collection of all the processes that make up a film, entail a huge bundle of questions; and thus the adventurous nature of a shooting. The adventure’s worth isn’t proportional to the number of answers one finds along the way, it is directly proportional to the resistance of the members involved. What actually happens is that the director is driving a train with no brakes, and his job is to make sure that the train isn’t derailed. That’s how Truffaut saw it.
My first question is always similar: Will I feel the same passion I felt the last fifteen times about the new story? Without an answer to questions such as this one, it is best to avoid getting involved in a new project.
With “Volver” the answer is certainly yes. Once again, I have the feeling of handling a story (fable, treasure and secret) in which I am anxious to engross myself…
This diary entry continues on Pedro Almodovar’s website, which also includes other entries and is being updated as production continues.
© Pedro Almodóvar. All rights reserved. Used with permission.