LONDON - Spanish writer-director Pedro Almodovar (All About My Mother) shared insight into his key filmmaking influences and the status of his latest project here on Sunday night.
During the British Academy of Film and Television Arts' annual David Lean film lecture, entitled "The Cinema Inside Me," he also discussed the role he sees for directors in the filmmaking process and society at large, why his films often feature strong female characters, particularly mothers, and why he grew up feeling that women have natural acting instincts.
He also signaled that one of the scripts that he has been having on his desk and that he has been working on is a genre/science fiction movie in the tradition of 1950s creations like The Creature From the Black Lagoon and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which he said he has a particular interest in.
Almodovar cited such films as among his early favorites. He said he found them fascinating, even though he didn't know who Senator Joe McCarthy was back then and that some of the filmmakers were blacklisted by him in his anti-Communist crusade. Almodovar didn't provide details on the genre script he currently has on his desk.
Mentioning his latest film I’m So Excited, the BAFTA and Oscar winner said it is currently in post-production, and he expects to complete it next month. It is slated for a late summer 2013 release.
Asked by an audience member about the role of the director in society, Almodovar said he never tries to fight social injustice or pursue other outright political causes with his films. Instead, he wants to mostly entertain and generate emotion.
And he highlighted that each film will be viewed and interpreted differently by people. "A film seen by a thousand different eyes becomes a thousand different films," Almodovar said. "And all of them are equally valid."
The films he made under Spanish General Franco's regime ignored his motherland's political situation, which in itself was a political statement though, he suggested. Said Almodovar: "In one sense, every movie is political - even the most frivolous movie."
During his lecture, he described the role of the director as that of friend, boyfriend, psychiatrist, mother/father and more. "But we are always a mirror for the actors - a mirror that can't lie," he said.
Almodovar referred to a clip from John Cassavetes' Opening Night that shows a stage director forcing his late and drunk, stumbling actress (Gena Rowlands) to walk to her dressing room without help. "He needs a kind of security to throw her to the stage," Almodovar said. "She had to demonstrate to the director that she's able to do that. She must face her ghosts - even if she needs to bang against all walls."
But the director changes gear from being like a military officer to helping and completely supporting his star when she does make it to the dressing room, Almodovar emphasized. "In my films there are many, many actresses and directors," he added.
One recurring theme in his films is how people "rehearse something that later happens to us in life," Almodovar said. "At least, I have that impression in regards to my own life." Among filmmakers and films that influenced him and his works, Almodovar mentioned - and showed clips of - such movies as Ingmar Bergman's Autumn Sonata, Jack Arnold's The Incredible Shrinking Man and Joseph Makiewicz's All About Eve.
All About Eve in particular has influenced his work greatly as he has always been fascinated by the world of women and theater, Almodovar said.
He then suggested that women, at least in Spain, have natural acting talent, because they don't lie, but sometimes need to hide certain things and pretend. "I remember my mother and grandma used to lie a lot to my father," he said to some laughs from the audience. "I was fascinated by that." They "elaborated reality with fiction" and ensured the continuation of family life, he argued without giving a specific example. "Our mothers were presidents of government and ministers of every ministry that ever existed." As a result, "there are many mothers in my movies, models of mothers," he said.
Asked about his casting process, Almodovar said he doesn't imagine specific faces when writing - often over extended periods - his first drafts. Once he finds his actors though, he said he custom- tailors the characters to them, so it feels like they are the only people who could portray them.
Almodovar on Sunday showed clips from some of his best-known films, including All About My Mother, High Heels and Talk to Her. He spoke in English and Spanish, translated into English by a woman on-stage.
At the end of the lecture, Almodovar received a BAFTA honor for The Skin I Live In, which the organization had awarded him last year for the best non-English language film. He hadn't been able to pick it up during last year's awards event.
In his acceptance speech, he paid special tribute to his brother and collaborator Agustin, who was present. "Brotherhood is the best part of love and the best part of friendship" - without the selfishness of either, Almodovar said.
He also thanked BAFTA for having been so generous to him with several awards over the years, including when Sam Mendes won so many awards for American Beauty, but Almodovar won the best director nod for his 1999 film All About My Mother. "I will never forget Sam's face" when the BAFTA announcer called out Almodovar instead of Mendes, he said.
The David Lean Lecture is designed to "educate, inform and inspire practitioners by providing insight into the experiences of some of the world’s best and most compelling filmmakers and to provide a forum for further discussion of their outstanding creative achievements," BAFTA says on its web site.