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Acclaimed Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar talks about his ghosts, facing death and generally bares his soul in a ‘confession’ written while making Volver, the film that won him the Best Screenplay award at Cannes (2006) and his cast of women an ensemble acting award.

Volver (meaning ‘coming back’) is a title that includes several kinds of ‘coming back’ for me. I have come back, a bit more, to comedy. I have come back to the world of women, to La Mancha (this is undoubtedly my most strictly Manchegan film, the language, the customs, the patios, the sobriety of the facades, the streets paved with cobblestones).

I am working again with Carmen Maura (after 17 years), with Penélope Cruz, Lola Dueńas and Chus Lampreave. I have come back to motherhood, as the origin of life and of fiction. And naturally, I have come back to my mother. To come back to La Mancha is always to come back to the maternal bosom.

While writing the screenplay and during the shoot, my mother was always present and very close. I don’t know if the film is good (it’s not for me to say), but I’m sure that it did me a lot of good to make it.

I have the impression, and I hope it’s not a fleeting feeling, that I have managed to slot in a piece of the puzzle (the misalignment of which has caused me a lot of pain and anxiety throughout my life, I would even say that in recent years it had damaged my existence, and taken on far too great a significance).

The piece of the puzzle that I am talking about is “death”, not just my own and that of my loved ones but the merciless disappearance of everything that lives. I have never accepted or understood it. And that puts you in a distressing situation when faced with the increasingly rapid passage of time.

The most important thing that comes back in Volver is the ghost of a mother who appears to her daughters. In my village those things happen (I grew up hearing stories of apparitions), yet I don’t believe in apparitions. Only when they happen to others, or when they happen in fiction. And this fiction, the one in my film (and here comes my confession) has produced a serenity in me the likes of which I haven’t felt for a long time (really, serenity is a word whose meaning is a mystery to me).

"acted as a stimulus"

I have never in my life been a serene person (and it’s never mattered to me in the slightest). My innate restlessness, along with a galloping dissatisfaction, has generally acted as a stimulus. It’s only in recent years that my life has gradually deteriorated, consumed by a terrible anxiety. And that wasn’t good either for living or for working. In order to direct a film, it’s more important to have patience than to have talent. And I had lost all patience a long time ago, particularly with trivial things which are what require most patience. This doesn’t mean that I have become less of a perfectionist or more complacent, not at all. But I believe that with Volver I have recovered some of my “patience”, a word which naturally involves many other things.

I have the impression that, through this film, I have gone through a necessary period of mourning, a painless mourning (like that of the character of Agustina the neighbour). I have filled a vacuum, I have said goodbye to something (my youth?) I hadn’t yet said goodbye to and needed to, I don’t know. There is nothing paranormal in all this. My mother hasn’t appeared to me, although, as I said, I felt her presence closer than ever.

Volver is a tribute to the social rituals practiced by the people of my village with regard to death and the dead. The dead never die. I have always admired and envied the naturalness with which my neighbours speak of the dead, cultivate their memory and tend their graves constantly. Like the character of Agustina in the film, many of them look after their own graves for years, while they are alive. I have the optimistic feeling that I have been impregnated with all that and that some of it has stayed with me.

I never accepted death, I’ve never understood it (I’ve said that already). For the first time, I think I can look at it without fear, although I continue to neither understand nor accept it. I’m starting to get the idea that it exists.

Despite being a non-believer, I’ve tried to bring the character (of Carmen Maura) from the other world. And I’ve made her talk about heaven, hell and purgatory. And, I’m not the first one to discover this, the other world is here. The other world is this one. Hell, Heaven, Purgatory, they are us, they are inside us – Sartre put it better than I.

Published December 21, 2006


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Volver – Australian release December 21, 2006

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