With certain directors, every new release takes us back to the first time we experienced their work. We remember the visceral thrills, the powerful sensuality or the intellectual austerity that captivated us and we want relive those sensations, which means we set the bar at a level so high that only a talented few can achieve it. And when they fail, which they often will, we begin to doubt their talents and even go so far as to reconsider that first experience. Was the work really as effective as we imagined?
In the case of Academy Award winner Pedro Almodóvar (Best Original Screenplay for Talk to Her), I go all the way back to his 1990 release Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! featuring Antonio Banderas as a man fresh out of a mental institution who hunts down a porn star he had a one-night stand with and attempts to convince her that they belong together. As the title clues you in, the man goes to rather extreme lengths to make his case. Tie Me Up! was quite an eye-opening film. I was nearing the end of my undergraduate study at the dawn of the age of political correctness and here was a film daring audiences to identify with an unstable guy, so in love that he kidnaps the love of his life in order to prove his devotion. Is that the kind of love that film wanted to present as the new ideal? And was this guy the new romantic hero for this age?
Almodóvar left no doubt in my mind that, at least onscreen, maybe we should be willing to let love rule. It sounds crazy, but Almodóvar was a wily fox in heat and every inch of the frame was packing.
Tie Me Up! was definitely raw and uncooked and I wanted more. It could be argued that he’s given me much more than primal sensuality in the years that followed. There has been a gradual maturation, an exploration into the lives of women that we haven’t seen from any other male writer or director currently working, reflections on sexual orientation and a fidelity between director and a core cast (Banderas, Penelope Cruz) that remains despite any seeming career divergence.
Of course, thankfully, what never changes is the eternal playfulness in Almodóvar, which is on display once again in I’m So Excited!, his latest sensual adventure. A plane with obstructed landing gear is forced to circle high above, while air and ground crews seek a solution. On board, there much more than the standard mid-air tension one would expect. After all, this is Almodóvar.
The flight crew has decided to slip sleeping pills into the drinks of economy-class passengers, leaving only the 1 percent in first-class awake, but no more in the know about the situation.
Loose lips (made even looser thanks enough alcohol shots to sink a Midwestern frat house) eventually let all the cats out of the bag and the secrets here have little to do with the state of the landing gear. Almodóvar throws a gaggle of gay flight attendants, closeted pilots, a female psychic who also happens to be a virgin, an assassin and a madam with the goods on a number of men in the highest of high places into a steamy mix.
The excitement doesn’t have much to do with love, which feels a bit like a step back from the kinky driving force of Tie Me Up!; there’s just a feverish sense of pleasure-seeking and release. There’s a dirty-mindedness at work that reminds us sex and sensuality can rob us of all sense and sensibility. We don’t want to think in the heat of the moment; that comes later and with it we get all of the shame and rationalizations, but we deserve to enjoy the moment for what it is.
I would go so far as to point out that I’m So Excited! marks the true distinction between raw sensuality and the far baser nakedness of porn. Almodóvar has always danced elegantly and with a certain relish along the line between the two that many (among the enduring politically correct class) have been holding themselves back from rising up against.
He’s still here and intriguingly he looks as spry and youthful as Peter Pan, flitting and flirting with all of us. Thankfully, he remains excited enough to tie us up in such knots. (R) Grade: A- (tt stern-enzi)