January 23, 2022

Pedro Almodóvar always makes shocking films

Pedro Almodóvar was having a difficult afternoon. The filmmaker sat at a kitchen table, chin in hand, looking tired and frustrated, a pink mask covering his nose and mouth. For two months, he was filming “Parallel Mothers”, his 21st feature film, in and around Madrid, once a hotspot of the global Covid-19 pandemic, without any major issues. His production company had hired nurses, performed thousands of Covid tests, and had the cast and crew use two FFP2 masks every day, all in an effort to keep the film on schedule. But now, on a Monday towards the end of May, in the final days of filming, when dozens of crew members gathered an hour north of Madrid to film the final indoor scene, Almodóvar was facing to an insurmountable obstacle. One of its main actors refused to work.

Milena Smit, the 25-year-old newcomer the Almodóvar team found on casting calls, sat across from him, wearing a gray hoodie and short wig. Penélope Cruz, who won her first Oscar nomination for her lead role in her 2006 film “Volver,” stood nearby in a striped sweater dress. In his arms, Cruz rocked a 14 month old girl named Luna Auria Contreras. For weeks, Auria had played like a pro: babbling at the right time, regardless of the camera. But now, when it was impossible to replace her, she would not follow the script.

Almodóvar needed Auria to sit quietly in a high chair between Smit and Cruz, or at least on Smit’s lap, while the women had an important conversation. But every time they brought Auria to the table, she would cry. The crew desperately tried to cheer him on. They offered him a cool bottle, took him around the kitchen with his father, brought Cruz’s adorable black dog. Nothing worked.

” See, cute, Do you know we only have three days left, precious? »Cruz coaxed in sweet Spanish. In Cruz’s arms, Auria fell silent, as if hypnotized by the star’s smoky voice and big eyes. Placed on Smit’s knees facing the camera, however, she began to scream.

“I think this girl is tired,” Cruz told Almodóvar. His mass of spiky white hair was haloed by the sun sliding through a shuttered window.

“I think this girl is not going to work today,” Almodóvar replied. Her voice was flat, calm. But everyone knew he was describing a logistical nightmare. It was already mid-afternoon. They still had to get to another location to shoot an outdoor stage before the sun set around 10 a.m.

As the crew busied themselves with Auria, Almodóvar gazed at a hand-painted tile backsplash. Each cream square was adorned with navy blue arcs and triangles. To make this kitchen look like it was built in the 1930s, his design team ripped off a 1970s remodel, knocked down a wall, restored an old fireplace, replaced the floor, built a wood countertop, and installed this backsplash. hand painted. Almodóvar oversaw every decision. He likes to pick books from the shelves of his characters, the cups they drink from. “The house of each main character is also a character,” said decorator Vincent Díaz. (Most interviews for this article were conducted in Spanish.) In “Parallel Mothers,” this kitchen served as the setting for two scenes which together lasted about three minutes.

Almodóvar stood up and announced that Auria needed a nap. As he left the building, he asked his assistant to bring him a laptop. If Auria didn’t work, he would rewrite the scene so that he could continue filming without her.

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Credit…Iglesias Más / El Deseo / Sony Pictures Classics

All his life, Almodóvar went through difficulties turning to his imagination. Born in 1949, he grew up in a Spain largely intimidated by the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco. Franco took control of the country in 1939, after he and his right-wing military forces won the Spanish Civil War, and he ruled until his death in 1975. During and immediately after the war, he and his supporters sought not only to rid Spain. liberals, democrats, anarchists, socialists and communists but also to cleanse the country of Jews, Romans, atheists, homosexuals, Freemasons, feminists and trade unionists. Almodóvar – an atheist who discovered his sexuality after watching Warren Beatty in the 1961 film “Splendor in the Grass” – was clearly an undesirable. Yet even when Franco was in power, Almodóvar felt absolute freedom whenever he sat down to write a story or a screenplay. “It’s a very clear feeling,” he told me. “There is no limit that I give myself, or that I impose on myself, or that I find. “