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Breaking Down Pedro Almodóvar

Breaking Down Pedro Almodóvar (photo)

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The pop art films of Spain’s Pedro Almodóvar have certain trademark qualities (a vibrant, glossy look, melodrama blended with irreverent comedy and high camp, queer-friendly hedonism) that have made him an international critics’ darling for over two decades. His filmography is peppered with modern arthouse classics like “Law of Desire,” “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” “All About My Mother,” “Talk to Her” and “Bad Education,” but, even having turned 60 this year, Almodóvar has no intention of slowing down.

A follow-up to 2006’s “Volver,” his fourth collaboration with Penélope Cruz is “Broken Embraces,” a romantic, neo-noirish drama that flashes forward and back between the ’90s and today. Lluís Homar stars as a middle-aged screenwriter who gave up his career as a filmmaker once a car accident rendered him blind. Through an outrageous series of recalled memories and time-fractured reveals, the shaggy tale of his affair with Cruz’s aspiring actress and the wealthy producer who came between them is meticulously pieced together, sometimes during films-within-this-film. In true Almodóvar fashion, the final result is an audacious genre-hopper that worships Cruz’s beauty, not to mention desire itself and the art of making cinema. With some help from a translator, Almodóvar chatted with me about personal touches, images too sacred to be filmed, and how his life has changed since becoming a sexagenarian.

“Broken Embraces” chronicles a love destroyed by jealousy, fate, deceit and the power of creative control. Do even your thorniest screenplays ever start with a single character, theme or image?

Initially, I had the [beach] photograph that appears in the film that I took nine years ago. When I developed it, I realized there was that couple of lovers embracing at the foot of the picture. I got the impression that there was a secret not only behind that, but in the island of Lanzarote itself. Of course, the story had many different sources. You need more than one idea to develop a script. But in my case, they never came all at once. I take these stories with me and write them down over many years, and once I’ve gathered a certain volume of notes, that’s when I start writing the script. My method of writing is actually more similar to a novelist than a professional scriptwriter. The reason I make a film every two years is that I always have a number of ideas in the works, and they develop gradually.

The film is also largely about filmmaking, yet you’ve said that the unfinished comedy within this film, “Girls and Suitcases,” is not meant to stand in for your “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.” It’s still fairly reminiscent, so I’m curious to know how personal this film is to you.

I absolutely want to say all about myself. One of the most important elements, despite the fact that it goes on in the characters’ backgrounds, is that they all work in cinema. Lena actually gives her life up in order to ensure that a film is finished, and I am as romantic as that. I think I would give my life up to finish a film. For instance, the main character, the film director, has many of my own pictures. The style of all the clothes he wears in the ’90s, those are all my own clothes, and some of his furniture is mine, too. Once he’s blind, he wants to watch some DVDs, and he says he wants to listen to Jeanne Moreau’s voice. All the directors he mentions, and Moreau herself, are some of my favorites. What’s most important about this director is his attitude, his philosophy towards his work, when he says that you have to finish a movie, even if it’s in the dark.

11192009_brokenembraces7.jpg“Women on the Verge” is present — obviously it’s a very free adaptation — but the reason for that is that I wanted to strike an opposition between the circumstances the characters are living in and the backdrop of comedy, to heighten how dramatic their situation is. If Penélope’s character arrived on set absolutely devastated by her own situation and was playing a drama, it would be a lot easier for her to do that than if she had to start playing a light comedy. That was trickier for her to do. [When we] see a few fragments of that film, I chose to use my own material since it was the most practical option, the cheapest, and I could feel very free with it. But it wasn’t until after we shot “Girls and Suitcases” that I realized that I’ve not only reviewed my own work, but it was a sort of déjà vu, because I thought that [we’d] been invaded by all these ghosts from the ship years ago. It was a very peculiar experience.

Not to be a jinx, but if you lost your eyesight, how would you continue trying to work in cinema?

When I mentioned the things that I identify with in this character, there are some that I don’t entirely identify with. I would never abandon a film for love. Or, probably, I would try to resolve the issues with the person I loved, but I would never walk away from a film on the editing table. I wouldn’t want to tempt fate, but you never really know how you’re going to react in this extremely tragic situation. But at least, in theory, I would definitely finish the movie. I would try to find out what happened and why the movie was so bad when it opened originally, but aside from those circumstantial considerations, I would probably keep on directing. I would direct theater.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.