Political Correctness, Gautier and the Politics of Gay Cinema: Pedro Almodovar Discusses Kika
The following interview of Pedro Almodovar about his film Kika appeared in our Spring, 1994 issue. It is being reprinted here online for the first time.
In addition to pumping (very bright red) new blood into Spanish film after Franco’s death, Pedro Almodovar has also blazed the path for a camp style that has been followed around the world. Mixing together high fashion, television melodrama, comic strips, and street corner pornography, Almodovar has spun off stories as tangled and absurd as they are have been uncannily close in capturing a particular moment of Spanish history. Now on the way to premiere his tenth film, Kika, Almodovar stops off in New York and talks to Filmmaker.
Filmmaker: What do you think about Kika? Do you think of this new film as a continuation or as a departure from your other films?
Almodovar: It is at the same time a way of saying good-bye to certain themes and putting myself in a new beginning, setting myself up for a new cycle. I don’t know what the cycle is going to be, or what it is, Kika is a very emblematic film: it is my tenth film and I think it closes a cycle.
Filmmaker: What themes do you think it closes?
Almodovar: I don’t think that I am going to change in a very radical way. I will still deal with passionate characters, very free women, and there will still be color in my films. And yes, there will still be sex in my films. It is more of a change of attitude. My outlook will be less young, more mature.
Filmmaker: It sounds like menopause.
Almodovar: I won’t say that it’s menopause. There are just certain things that I don’t find so much fun anymore and I am finished with them. I think that Kika has certain characters from my other films, but I think that it is a very different film. There is an atmosphere of greater unease than in my other films, and there is also something that represents me at the moment, and it is also a film with a risky narrative structure. It is a film that completely destroys the linearity of the narration and is much more electric than any of my earlier films.
Filmmaker: Are you working with new actors here?
Almodovar: In all of my films there have been a few new actors and in all of them I have always repeated a few actors. I do have the impression that I will be working with different actors and in different countries in the future. For the first time in my life and in my career I feel the need to leave Spain. I will continue to project myself into my films, but I will do so in places that are not so familiar to me.
Filmmaker: Like in the image of Kika on the road going someplace new when the film ends?
Almodovar: Yes, Kika ends up on the road and I myself feel in that position, going someplace else. And indeed I am going someplace else.
Filmmaker: Why did you decide to open the film at the Miami Film Festival?
Almodovar: Well, that was a promotional decision. Miami is a place where most people understand the mambo and the mambo is present throughout most of the film. I guess it is also a good idea to promote the film in a space where nearly everybody speaks Spanish.
Filmmaker: How did you end up using Versace and Gaultier for your costumes?
Almodovar: Versace is a friend of mine, and I liked his collection last year very much. The collection is very rich in color; it was sort of the development of the neo-hippie look with great cleavage and very tight clothing. I think that it is very optimistic clothing. And I think that it fit the character of Kika very well. I have the impression that a very optimistic girl should have rather large tits and a large ass and she must be proud to show them. And Versace’s clothing gave me the opportunity to show it. But the collection was already designed, so his collaboration was to generously loan the clothes to me. As in the case of Gaultier, he worked very much as a member of the crew, closely following all of my instructions and understanding them very well. I told him that I wanted Andrea to be a working camera, that she should almost be like a robot, and at the same time there should be something military about her, that she should be a soldier of information, and that is exactly what he achieved with that design. I am really hoping that the Metropolitan Museum will let me show it as an anthropological artifact. They asked Madonna for the costume that he designed for her “Blond Ambition” tour, and I think that this costume is certainly up to that standard. The costumes contain all of the theory that both the character and I wanted in order to turn a tragedy into a spectacle, to make a certain reflection about the aesthetics of terror, trash, post-punk—all of those genres which use violence aesthetically. Because what Andrea is trying to do is convent blood into a spectacle, to turn tragedy into a show, so it is enough to see how she is dressed to understand what her idea is.
Filmmaker: The designs seem to borrow a lot from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis?
Almodovar: Yes, there is something of that, especially something of Lang’s robot. Metropolis is, I think, a great masterpiece in every way. I don’t think that there is any contemporary film that comes up the level stylistic or thematically of Metropolis.
Filmmaker: In your casting, why the American Peter Coyote?
Almodovar: The character is an American and a bohemian American, which Peter fit very well. I later learned that Peter is also a writer. He looks like a writer; he has the face of a writer. There are certain professions for which you need the face of that profession. For example, I would never call Antonio Banderas to play the part of a writer, or Tom Cruise. I would never cast Sharon Stone as a writer unless I was trying to make a parody of Jackie Collins. Not a lot of writers have the face of a writer and Peter Coyote does.
Filmmaker: You can get Jackie Collins to play herself.
Almodovar: Or Joan.
Filmmaker: Are you interested in working in television? Your films often seem fascinated with television.
Almodovar: No, I have no interest in working in television but, television is in my films because television is everywhere. Even here, in this room, there are two television sets. In the same way that I have to put tables and chairs and lamps in my films, I have to put in televisions. They form a part of the furniture, and something more than the furniture.
Filmmaker: How do you finance your films?
Almodovar: The last two have been financed by the Ciby 2000, which finances many European films.
Filmmaker: And before, how did you finance your films?
Almodovar: Before that I used to work with many different producers, up to my sixth film, and then my brother and I formed a production company. Because in Spain the usual way to finance is with subsidies from the Ministry of Culture and with presales to television. When I discovered the producer was nothing more than an administrative clerk who took my script to different offices, we figured that we could do that ourselves. And now my films are produced by El Deseo, which is our company. Fortunately, our first film was Law of Desire, which instead of being a dangerous film to market turned out to be a success.
Filmmaker: You seem to have a special reception here in America, both in good and bad ways. What do you think makes your films to attractive to Americans, even if they are occasionally misunderstood?
Almodovar: I think that any story is understandable in any language. There are films of Kurosawa to which I feel very close, and yet I don’t feel at all close to Japanese culture. I think that my films are very Spanish, but I think they can be understood everywhere. In the case of the United States, I think they are more understandable in the big cities, because all of my films are made in Madrid which is a big city, and all of the big cities in the world are becoming similar. My films in the States have, however, a big problem, and I don’t think that it is either a cinematography or narrative problem, but a moral one. I think that my films are what you would call “politically incorrect.” There is always a certain tension because the spectator goes to see my films with certain expectations; but my films are made with absolute freedom, and that has caused them to be misunderstood, or for the audience to give them a meaning that they don’t have. My films are very independent films. They are not underground, because I have enough money to make them, and yet here I feel like an underground director. From the moment that my films gained access to a larger audience and newspapers felt the need to speak about them, they were being judged from a much more conservative position. I think that the biggest point of misunderstanding is the problem of language. I work very much with dialogue that illustrates characters by the way they speak, and this is very difficult to translate. Each language, I think, has its own musicality and, I would say, its own ideology. There are words you can say in Spanish that sound very normal, but when they are translated to English they come out all wrong. There are many subtle details that are lost, more for reasons of language than for cultural reasons. You may say that this is a problem that any foreign director has, but I think that my films are more fragile than others, because the language I use is never an academic language, so that makes it more difficult to translate than, say, a Bergman film.
Filmmaker: You raised the issue of morality. You often seem caught between different political agendas here. For example, gay groups have condoned you for not continually making gay films, or for not providing good images. And feminists have sometimes attacked your violence.
Almodovar: Homosexuality and homosexuality in films is understood very different here than it is understood in Spain. In Spain we don’t differentiate movies with homosexuals from movies without. In Spain there isn’t really a gay community. Here things are much more divided. In my films homosexuals are part of the film but no more. There is not a political posture or position on their part or on my part. I am only talking about characters that are alive and who form a part of my films in the same way that they form a part of society. And I think that creates some sort of confusion here. For example, I can understand the difference between an independent film and big-budget studio film, but I will never understand how there are gay films. I think that that is a form of classification that has nothing to do with a film. That is the way in which we understand things, even though here it is understood differently. And that sort places me in a no man’s land, because I am not a gay director. I am a director. I have been reproached by gay publications here that Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down was about a heterosexual couple and not a homosexual couple. I think that is insane.
Filmmaker: It seems like a cultural difference. The film, Savage Nights, for example, will be considered by some anti-gay because it does not provide positive images. Is a similar dynamic true for violence? I know that many women here are very critical of the very long rape scene of Kika in your film. Was this considered a problem in Spain?
Almodovar: No, there has not been any of that reaction in Spain, France, or Belgium, where the film has already opened. And I think that that is a cultural difference, a cultural difference which, if you pardon my pretentiousness, demonstrates that we are in a superior situation. Because all it signifies is a sort of prejudice on the part of some women who don’t think I take rape seriously. Here is one thing: nobody should tell a director how he should make a film. You are free to like it or not, but the director must decide how he will make the film and what he will put in it. The contrary position would be to limit the work of an artist. I assure you that you can make a comedy out of the most horrible subject matter. You can make a comedy about Hitler as Chaplin did in The Great Dictator. I don’t think that Chaplin felt any sympathy for Hitler. It is just that in making a film a director tries out all kinds of strategies. And to allow a director that flexibility seems so basic to me that it is important not only in cinema, but also in life. People and films are not simple things; they have many facets. You have to see them in their complexity, and not just in one of their facets. One of the problems I have here is that radical groups, like feminists, read my films very literally. I think that I am essentially a feminist person, and when I speak of women in my films, I do so with my heart and generally in favor of them. But that doesn’t mean I have to show you women as if they were all angels. If you want, I can explain to you what my intention was behind the rape scene, but it would be like explaining a joke. The strength of the joke disappears when you have to explain it.
Filmmaker: Perhaps this is because we treat narrative very realistically here.
Almodovar: This seems so simplistic. It is as if people here believe that other people simply imitate what they see in movies and if that is true it says something really awful about your culture. You are talking about a completely crazy and completely nutty country. One of the wonderful things about film is that it can be seen in a thousand different ways, all of them real. You have to be flexible with a movie and with life in general and you have to be tolerant and you have to have a sense of humor, and you don’t have to accept things on face value. But I don’t want to peach.