Filmmaker. He opened the Venice Film Festival with the film 'Madres Paralelas' ('Parallel Mothers')
Culture 03/09/2021

Pedro Almodóvar: "I don't understand why 'tortilla' is not on the same level as hamburgers and pizza"

3 min
Pedro Almodóvar in Venice.

VeniceThe day after opening the Venice Film Festival with Madres Paralelas (Parallel Mothers), Pedro Almodóvar (Calzada de Calatrava, 1949) explains to ARA details about the humanist aspect and the sober tone of this melodrama in which he deals with the drama of the relatives of the victims who disappeared during the Civil War.

It is striking that in Madres Paralelas there are no Machiavellian characters. One can sense your interest in understanding them all.

— I think it's the natural result of being 70 years old and having directed 22 and a half films. From Julieta [2016], I notice that I'm telling a different kind of story, more restrained in tone and more focused on the inner pain of the characters. In this sense, I can't imagine a more inner suffering than that of Janis in Madres Paralelas (Penélope Cruz's character), who lives with anguish the task her grandmother has given her to find her great-grandfather, who was killed during the Civil War. Moreover, the character's struggle to conquer a certain collective truth, linked to historical memory, comes into conflict with the absence of truth that germinates in her life when her daughter is born and she begins to have doubts about the baby's identity. With such inner dramas she didn't need evil characters.

Is it the internalisation of drama what has led you to make a sober film?

— Some elements of Madres Paralelas, such as the colouring of the sets and the costumes, are no different from other films of mine. The difference is the story and the direction of the actors. There are certain scenes with Penélope Cruz, Milena Smit and Aitana Sánchez Gijón that could be very tearful, but I tried hard to drain the drama from the performances. I wanted them to be dry, yet very direct. It's fair to say that, for the actresses, it's very hard to have to immerse themselves in the pain of these characters for months. Towards the end of the shoot, I told Penélope not to suffer so much, but she reminded me of my own way of suffering on set, like an energetic person, sometimes getting upset over the smallest details. I think it's a neurotic issue that, fortunately, I managed to reduce in the filming of Dolor y gloria (Pain and Glory) and Madres Paralelas.

Madres Paralelas' drama is in the characters, but also in the Spanish state's failure to deal with the issue of historical memory. Is it your most political film?

— I consider all cinema to be political. My first films were pop works, but they starred women with enormous moral autonomy, whether they were nuns, modern girls or lawyers. There was a strong political component in the portrayal of these women. Later, in Carne trémula [1997], when I had the idea that Liberto Rabal's character should be born on a fateful date, I decided that it should be the night in 1970 when Fraga Iribarne read, on Radio Nacional de España, the conditions of the last state of exception of the Franco era. Now, with Madres Paralelas, I wanted to explore the enormous moral debt that Spanish society owes to the relatives of the victims of the Civil War who are still buried in mass graves. I had wanted to do this for a long time, but hadn't found a way to include it in one of my stories.

So what was different this time?

— When I started writing Madres Paralelas and while we were shooting it, the issue of historical memory wasn't coming up in the media. It seemed like a politically amortised issue. But the reality is that there are thousands and thousands of families who are still looking for their disappeared relatives. Now it is the generation of great-grandchildren that is leading the search. Fortunately, a month ago the law of democratic memory was passed, which I think will put an end to this situation because at last it is the administration that assumes the economic cost of the exhumations. In this sense, the difference with the timid law of historical memory passed by Zapatero in 2007 is abysmal.

To finish, I would like to tell you how much I enjoyed the cooking scenes in Madres Paralelas, especially the one with the tortilla de patatas (potato omelette). Perhaps this is your film with the most people cooking since Qué he hecho yo para merecer esto (1984).

— I'm trying to promote Spanish cuisine internationally! [laughs]. I really don't understand why tortilla de patatas isn't on the same level as hamburgers and pizza. I try to do my bit. In fact, since the success of Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) [1988], you can order gazpacho in most restaurants in the United States.

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