Pedro Almodóvar started out in the Eighties as Spain’s enfant terrible, but over the years has come to be seen as a venerated foreign auteur, today’s answer to late-period Fellini or Kurosawa. A common, perhaps inevitable, criticism lunged at his more recent work is that he has mellowed out — or worse, lost his edge.
The crowd that turned up Thursday evening at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema in the East Village for a Cinema Society- and Girard-Perregaux-hosted screening of his latest, “I’m So Excited,” spoke to Almodóvar’s vaunted place in the foreign art-house pantheon. Calvin Klein, Sandra Brant and Ingrid Sischy, Marc Jacobs and Kathleen Turner were among the crowd. But Almodóvar, who is now 63, still delights in provocation, and “I’m So Excited” is a farcical romantic comedy with ample drug use and sex that still manages to deliver an emotional punch. Here are the characters in the new comedy, which mostly takes place on a plane on its way to Mexico: a hit man, a dominatrix named Miss Take, a virgin with psychic powers, a philandering movie star, a couple of junkie newlyweds, Spain’s answer to Bernie Madoff, two bisexual pilots, and three flamboyant flight attendants whose most senior member is carrying on an affair with the plane’s captain. When the passengers are informed the plane is having mechanical difficulties and will have to make an emergency landing, the flight attendants are tasked with keeping them entertained. They do so with cabaret and mescaline.
Introducing the film, Almodóvar explained how he came up with its U.S. title, a change from its Spanish name, “Los Amantes Pasajeros,” which roughly translates to “Passengers in Love.”
“In Spain, almost every word has a double meaning. In this case, ‘excited’ implies enthusiasm but also sexual arousal,” he explained, in his broken English, his voice shot after several days of promotional junkets. “So, being excited means being horny.”
Carlos Areces, one of the film’s costars, recalled seeing Almodóvar’s debut, “Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón,” as a teenager.
“It was like a shot to the head. In that movie there was such creative freedom I hadn’t ever seen before, much less in a Spanish film,” Areces said at the after party at No. 8 in the Meatpacking District. “To all of a sudden see a movie where people took drugs, where there was a contest of erections, where a woman enjoyed sadomasochism — it’s remained a landmark from that era, in the Eighties, when, after the dictatorship ended, new voices of freedom took the country by storm.”
Is Almodóvar still transgressive? “Now more than ever” Areces said.
At the screening, Almodóvar wrapped up his introduction.
“This movie is dedicated to bisexuals,” he said. There was scattered applause and hoots of approval following the remark, but mainly the high-wattage crowd stirred nervously. “Some in the house?” Almodóvar asked. “I don’t see many hands. OK, good, we have one here. I don’t know if you have them in the United States. In Spain, we have them.” He also dedicated the film to virgins everywhere.