Thursday, 9 May 2013

Los amantes pasajeros / I'm So Excited! (Pedro Almodóvar, 2013)

Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Screenplay: Pedro Almodóvar
Cast: Javier Cámara (Joserra), Carlos Areces (Fajas), Raúl Arévalo (Ulloa), Antonio de la Torre (Álex Acero), Lola Dueñas (Bruna), Carmen Machi (concierge), Laya Martí (Bride), Cecilia Roth (Norma Boss), Hugo Silva (Benito), Miguel Ángel Silvestre (Groom), Blanca Suárez (Ruth), Guillermo Toledo (Ricardo Galán), José Luis Torrijo (Más), Paz Vega (Alba), José María Yazpik (Infante).
Synopsis: Madrid, the present. A flight to Mexico takes off with a fault with its landing gear and subsequently circles the skies over Spain while the authorities look for an appropriate place for an emergency landing. The crew sedate the economy class passengers but have their work cut out with the people in business class. As the air stewards put on their best performances, the booze flows and pills are popped, secrets tumble out and inhibitions are lost.

These are just initial thoughts - I'm writing this the same day I saw the film.

    I went in with my expectations lowered, in part because I got too hyped about La piel que habito but also because I was aware that the reviews have been mixed (I didn't read any beforehand), and probably enjoyed it all the more for that: this is froth, but enjoyable froth.
    In fact while the surface of the film is frothy entertainment, there is also a mild satire of the mess that Spain is currently in underneath - the disclaimer at the start of the film saying that this is a work of fiction should be taken with a pinch of salt (the names may have been changed but events on the ground have a basis in reality), as Maria Delgado writes: 'The terms "recession" or "economic crisis" are conspicuously absent from the film, but the Guadiana plotline offers pertinent comment on a society where patronage, politics and public administration are inextricably interwoven' (2013: 40). I guess how much of that undercurrent to the film that you pick up on is dependent on how aware you are of Spanish current affairs.
    Delgado also draws parallels with A Midsummer Night's Dream ('magical makeovers are matched by erotic gameplay' (2013: 38)) and the Valencia cocktail (dosed with mescaline) stands in for the love potion. I like that reading because I think the film can function as a dreamy in-between world - after the Banderas/Cruz prologue the camera closes in on the engine turbine rotating, like milk in black coffee, a kind of hypnotic effect that perhaps signals that what follows is not 'real'. Certainly, up in the clouds, circling with no apparent destination, the passengers are suspended from reality and acting out a farce (signalled by the theatrical red curtains that divide the space) - a diversion for the crew as much as anything else (the 'public' telephone delivering instalments of a soap opera, or glimpses of other possible films).
    I've seen remarks comparing the film to Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios ('a male version') but actually the style of comedy lacks the sophistication of that film and instead harks back to the crude and scatological humour of Almodóvar's very early films such as Pepi, Luci, Bom and Laberinto de pasiones. That kind of humour is not to everyone's taste (those latter two films are not among my favourites) but I think that a lot depends on the characters (and actors) delivering the lines - the air stewards (played by Cámara, Areces, and Arévalo) are written and performed with affection and I think they're probably destined to be regarded as 'classic' Almodóvar characters in much the same way that Agrado (Antonia San Juan) became the standout of Todo sobre mi madre. The dance sequence to The Pointer Sisters' 'I'm So Excited', a longer sequence than is in the trailer, made me cry with laughter -I don't know that any further recommendation is necessary. If I come back to the film again later, I think I'll look a bit more at the actors / performances involved and the side stories -for example, the Ricardo Galán strand in which an actor drives one of his exes mad and another leaves him in order to maintain her sanity has obvious links to Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios, but Blanca Suárez's Ruth (in her floral sundress) also cuts a Kika-ish dash through proceedings (also in relation to this plotline: can I ask someone, but Almodóvar in particular, to give Paz Vega another decent lead role in something - she only has a few minutes here but you forget all else while she is onscreen).
    In short, if you go expecting an Almodóvarian dramedy, you will probably be 'disappointed', but if you want a giggle, then the current band of chicos Almodóvar will entertain you.

Delgado, M. (2013) - 'Wings of Desire', Sight & Sound, May, pp.36-38, 40.