Pedro Almodovar wants to get people back into movie theaters.
Speaking at the Venice International Film Festival on Thursday, the Oscar-winning Spanish director made a passionate plea for audiences to return to cinemas or risk losing an essential aspect of human culture. “The cinema is not going through the best period, but that is why we have to invite people to go to the cinema,” Almodovar said, speaking through a translator at the press conference in Venice for his new short film, The Human Voice, starring Tilda Swinton.
Almodovar, a notorious hypochondriac, agreed to break his personal quarantine in Spain to attend the festival. His film, loosely based on the play by Jean Cocteau, follows Swinton, in what is essentially a 30-minute monolog, in which she has one final phone conversation with her longtime lover. The Human Voice was entirely shot during the coronavirus lockdown in Spain.
“The lockdown has proven many things to us,” Almodovar said. “It showed us to what extent we all depend on fiction to fill our time … on experiences written by someone, interpreted by someone, in film, in the theater or even through the newspaper. These cultural forms played an essential role in this time. Another result was negative. Lockdown has shown us that our homes can be a place where we are in prison. Where you can work, eat, and live inside. [But] the antidote to all this is the cinema. It is the opposite of all that. Going to the cinema means going on an adventure.”
Swinton had made a similarly-passionate plea for cinema in Venice on Wednesday night, when she accepted a Golden Lion award for lifetime achievement. She used the award to give a rousing tribute to the power of movies, which the Scottish actress called “my true motherland.” In a touching tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman, she ended her speech with a simple “Wakanda Forever.”
Both Swinton and Almodovar are Venice regulars. The Oscar-winning actress took one of her first international accolades here back in 1991, winning best actress for her performance in Derek Jarman’s Edward II. More recently, she’s graced the Lido for the premieres of Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love (2009), in 2009, A Bigger Splash 2015), and Suspiria (2018).
Almodovar celebrated his international breakthrough in Venice in 1988 with Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, which won him the best screenplay honor and launched his international career. Last year, he received Venice’s Golden Lion for lifetime achievement.
The Human Voice is the first time the two have worked together. Swinton said a friend of hers, a Benedictine monk in Scotland, prayed that she would work with Almodovar. “I thought it was ridiculous because I’m not a Spanish actress, I don’t speak Spanish,” said Swinton at the press conference. “But Pedro and I share a language of cinema.”
On the stage in Venice the pair complemented each other well — Swinton in a canary yellow dress alongside Almodovar wearing a loose black and white print topped by his omnipresent sunglasses. The Spanish director said he felt “a special connection” to the Scottish actress and hoped they would again work together soon. “But first we need a script!” he said.
Almodovar, however, isn’t waiting. Next month he begins pre-production on his next film, Madres paralelas, starring Penelope Cruz, and he said he has already written scripts for two more short productions — a 45-minute piece and a 15-20 minute work—which he hopes to make with “the same sense of freedom” with which he shot The Human Voice.
Almodovar outlined one of the projects, which he said was “a dystopia” that looks at the impact on people in a society when all the theaters and cultural spaces shut down. It’s a fiction obviously drawn from real life. But speaking from the first film festival to be held after the coronavirus lockdown, Almodovar said he will continue to battle for the survival of cinema.
“Despite the uncertainty we have to go on, we have to continue to make films. to make cinema,” he said. “You have to tell people to go to the cinema, Because some things can only be discovered on the big screen, in the dark with people you don’t know.”