The day before interviewing iconic Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, I found myself curled up on a very cramped, very stuffy seat on a plane, wishing for a better way to entertain myself. My thoughts drifted to Almodóvar’s latest feature, the bizarrely comedic and highly sexual comedy I’m So Excited! Not that there was anyone in my eyesight that I’d particularly like to have a sexual encounter with and not that I needed to spike my drink with a cocktail of drugs, but a more amusing experience was desired. Yet for the passengers that make up the cast of his vibrant new feature, when faced with the anxiety of imminent danger and the looming fear of death, it’s the carnal pleasures of life that provide their in-flight entertainment, making for an uproarious film that harkens back to an earlier time in the brilliant director’s work.
And after carving a dark hole into our psyche with The Skin I Live In and veering off into some very disturbing territory, his follow-up feature is definitely lighter fare and a welcome change of tone—but that’s not to say it doesn’t merit the same acclaim as his more serious features by any means. Featuring his signature sense of precise style and larger than life personalities, I’m So Excited! is populated with a cast of familiar faces that engage in a debauchery-fueled thrill ride as their commercial flight circles through the sky.
In the film that’s so contained you can almost imagine it set on a stage, I’m So Excited! tells the story those onboard Peninsula Flight 2549 who find themselves trapped mid-air when their plane encounters a technical failure. After the flight attendants drug all of those not in first class, the crew try their best to concoct ways to make the disastrous flight as enjoyable as possible, resulting in a plethora of intoxication and fornication, mirroring the inextricable link between sex and death.
A few weeks ago, I sat down with Almodovar to discuss his in-flight fantasies, the subtextual political nature of the film, and democratic celebration of liberating oneself.
What’s great about being on a plane is that you’re not tied to anyone or anywhere, you’re outside of your own world for that brief period of time.
When I’m traveling, I write a lot. I like that feeling of suspended in time and space.
Did this film stem from a certain love or fear of traveling? Or was it more just a collection of realizations you’ve gathered from observing others as you’ve been in flight.
This was not really based in anything I imagined when I was traveling, because when I’m in a plane, I don’t talk with anyone. What I do is to write because it’s really one of the circumstances in which I feel more with myself—and it ends up being very productive. There are two elements that I think in general are on a place: one is the fear of death. But of course, if you travel a lot, automatically you don’t think about it, but it’s there—you’re giving your destiny over to the pilots. But also there’s a fantasy of sex. If you’re traveling and you’re in, I hope, business class, you go first to the plane you see everyone else come in and it’s like a catwalk. So it almost feels like an offer, like of all these people who are walking past you are on display—which one would you make love to? Even if you don’t think about sex, you think, oh he’s handsome or she’s beautiful, because they’re all very different. For me, death and sex are very related on a level that’s sometimes unconscious. So for the movie, death and the fear of death, and also this kind of orgy that happens, the film is about that.
This film felt like it harkened back a time when sex and drugs and enjoying oneself was something that was celebrated.
Yeah, absolutely. I didn’t want to make a porno movie, but it’s just trying to celebrate something that is a real gift for human nature—and it’s a very democratic gift because no one can steal it from you. But of course, it’s a comedy, and just in case that things are going very badly, this is the best way to say goodbye to life and to celebrate it like a gift.
It’s also a return for you to a bigger, vibrant kind of film like ones you made when you began your career as a filmmaker. So was this a conscious effort to go back to that after a film like The Skin I Live In, which was so dark and precise? Or is the story what comes first and the genre you want to explore what comes after?
Humor comes very easily to me, and even in the dramas or thrillers I had to restrain myself because I always have a temptation to put humor in, to turn a particular situation in a humorous situation. Humor, in so far as creating funny situations or funny dialogue, comes easily but in the case of this film, actually having to build a story that cohered and characters that made sense was a lot more difficult than it used to be for me in the 80s. So it was a lot more of a challenge.
For all the comedy in the film, you have said this is your most political work yet.
Yeah but for that, to understand that, you need to have information about what is happening in Spain right now. The American audience, perhaps if they are not so aware about the social problems in Spain, they can see the movie and find it funny. If not, I’m wrong because the film itself should be enough without knowing anything about Spain. But for the Spanish people, it is very obvious—even something like how in the movie you never hear the word "crisis" but that crisis is very evident in the movie. Also, it’s about how we feel about the situation we are living now and the word that defines it best is "uncertainty." The Spanish people, we don’t know when it’s going to finish, who is going to be in charge, and that’s awful that feeling—the sensation that there’s not a solution at hand and that we don’t know who might even take charge and resolve it. You can translate that into the sense that we need to land this plane somewhere but we don’t know where and we don’t know what the risks will be. So also then the fact that we’re circling around without any place to go becomes a metaphor of the Spanish situation. And that airport in the film exists and is a big case of scandal and corruption in Spain. So when the Spanish people see this airport in the movie, they understand that. But what I hope for the American audience, without knowing these details, you can enjoy the movie. I pray for that. The political situation is the subtext, not the context for the film.
And of course, sexuality plays a large role in all of your work.
But in this, the way that bisexuality is portrayed and giving into fantasy or desire, and then showing that in a playful and comedic way—simply people begin liberated and allowing themselves to have fun—that’s something you don’t see often, especially in America.
Yeah, so already the fact that they’re facing danger and the fact that they’ve been drinking a lot makes it such that there’s already a spirit of liberation. So the alcohol, the drugs, all of this is there to propel a kind of opening up. I don’t know if this the first time I’ve done it, but it is true that the masculine bisexuality is quite present in this film. Spain is a very liberated country and male homosexuality in particular is quite accepted in almost every area of society and is quite visible—something that is not quite so true of lesbians, they don’t have the same kind of visibility and even much less bisexuals. If there’s one thing that might make the specter uncomfortable I think it might be bisexuality more than anything else.
But that depends on where the discomfort is stemming from in each person.
Well, I do it in a more funny way. I hope that it’s funny.
Oh, thank you.
I enjoyed how the film was so claustrophobic that it felt so much like it could have been a stage play. All of the things that made it funny and interesting came from dialogue and the rich characters and the interaction between them, not from anything crazy happening externally. Did you set out to create that sort of intimacy through language?
You’re right about this, that it has this theatrical sense, but as I was writing it really my references were more the screwball comedies of the 1930s and 1940s. And those screwball comedies in fact took place in very few spaces as well. But there is something of the theatre that comes back to me or comes out of these kinds of films for me. For example, Women on the Verge, when I was writing that, there’s an element of theatre that inevitably gets conjured—theater but made in a very cinematic way, it’s not like filmed theater. And this particular film, the spoken word is very important. The passengers are used to entertaining themselves during the flight through the TV screens, so it was very important the the TV screens don’t work because then they’re forced to get their doses of fiction and spectacle from the people around them, so this is an important aspect of the film. I like the idea that in this kind of catharsis, when they start talking, this is like the big show for them and also the best way to communicate with each other. In an extreme situation like that, they are completely free to talk, so it’s a lot of fun. They don’t take care, they don’t have to hide anything, and that’s also a very good element for comedy.