By Manar Ammar
Spanish writer and director Pedro Almodovar has quite an international following and for a good reason. Few others, European or otherwise, have shown such passion to tell and celebrate the stories of women and gay people in film. Especially in a hetero-male dominated world, Almodovar’s films come as an almost revelation. His latest, ‘I am so excited’ reminds us why so many years ago, we went gaga for him. A brassy melodramic comic tale that can only be done by Almodovar.
Fans of Almodovar will be reunited with the themes he reveres best, explosive passion and sexual discoveries, family ties, identity and death. Almodovar’s characters are literally discovering their sexual identities through his dialogue. Despite the casualness of the lines, there is nothing casual or conventional here. Towards the end of the film, few of the characters have resolved who they are and why they have taken their path.
The screen goes from black to show us a disclaimer that all characters and events in the film are fictional, which Almodovar hints might not be entirely true. The airline in the film is named Peninsula, which could be another hint to Iberia?
The film opens with a guest star appearance from Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas, a homage to the director they both have worked with before – Banderas in the 2011 ‘The Skin I Live In’ and Cruz with ‘All About My Mother’ and ‘Volver’, as a loving couple who work in the airport. We then meet our flight heading to Mexico City, and at 10,000 feet in the air, we discover there is a technical error and Peninsula flight 2549 is now in danger.
Fearing the economy passengers reaction, the crew sedates them, much like on the ground the economy class has to be sedated in times of ‘danger’. We are then introduced to the flight crew and pilots, all can only be Almodovarians. Nothing is muted or tuned down in the film, the characters, the colors, vivid reds and blues, red curtains from which emerges our characters, into an arial stage, ready to preform their parts. But rarely things goes according to plan in an Almodovar world.
The cabin crew then switches their attention to amusing the first class passengers, a psychic virgin, an aging dominatrix, a hit man, a corrupt yet powerful businessman, a drug mule and his new bride and a troubled actor. This exists all the while the three gay flight attendants must deal with their own personal drama and the one evolving at hand.
The pilot, Antonio De La Torre, is also having an affair with flight attendant Joserra and feels he can’t leave his wife for him yet. Co-pilot, Hugo Silva, is on the brink of sexual discoveries that will change his life. In fact, all passengers will have some sort of epiphany about sex and death in the air, and yes all story lines are resolved at the end.
Eventually, everyone but the sleeping economy class trips on a hallucinogen that releases their subconscious sexual desires as they wait for potential death. Bruna, the psychic, played by one of Almodovar’s favorite actresses Lola Duenas, can smell death, on the ground and in the air, and death is an omnipresent figure whether you are defying gravity with being at 10,000 mile in the sky or going to the bathroom in your own house, death reeks of our character and plane, but they keep busy, waiting.
As they fly in circulars over mainland Spain, a strong and subtle light is shed on corruption on the ground. In one scene, an unused airport is chosen for the emergency landing and as we hear the sounds of our plane crashing into the runway, Almodovar chooses to show us shots from inside the ghost airport, abandoned and unused, held back by politics, but crashes, both metaphorical and physical, will take place.
Almodovar loyalists and others are bound to have a good ride on the flight, a funny, airy and thought provoking ride, that will see you burst out laughing but will seed a few ideas in your brain.
** This film opens in July across the United States.