Arts & Entertainment

Almodovar: ‘Spain has a bad relationship with its past’

By Magdalena Tsanis

Madrid, Oct 4 (EFE).- The theme of freedom underpins much of Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar’s work, but in “Parallel Mothers”, a drama about “imperfect motherhood”, the filmmaker doubles down on his political engagement by contributing his two cents to a sensitive national debate — Spain’s “moral debt” over the people who were disappeared during the Spanish Civil War.

“Spain has a very bad relationship with its past, it is intrinsic to our culture,” he said in an interview with Efe in which he said the Law of Democratic Memory that the Spanish government sent to Congress last July and still pending approval is “more than timely”.

“Parallel Mothers,” which lands in theaters on Friday after opening at the Venice Film Festival, revolves around the relationship between two women who are in hospital giving birth at the same time. One of them, played by Penélope Cruz, had a great-grandfather who was shot at the beginning of the war and becomes involved in finding his remains.

QUESTION: Motherhood and historical memory seem to be two difficult subjects to unite, why did you want to do it?

ANSWER: The idea I started writing with was that of the two mothers, while the question of historical memory is a subject that has always haunted me and I had never managed to put in a film. It seemed to me that if Penelope’s character was looking for her great-grandfather, in that tangential way the theme would fit.

Q.- The character played by Aitana Sánchez Gijón defines herself as ‘apolitical’ because, being an actress, everyone has to like her. Is that phrase inspired by anyone in particular?

A.- When someone says they are apolitical, they are not apolitical, they are right-wing. The phrase was inspired from the period after the Spanish academy Goya awards in 2003 (which protested the invasion of Iraq) in which the Spanish conservative party, in power at the time, turned our entire profession into the ‘bête noire’ of Spain.

They were persistently and tenaciously discrediting us and there was a period, as a result of this, when some actors began to wonder what had been gained with such a direct and critical engagement with the government.

Q.- Do you consider “Parallel Mothers” to be your most political film?

A.- In all my films I talk about freedom, but this is the most clearly political. Spanish society has an enormous moral debt with the families of the disappeared (…) and the sooner this debt is paid, the better. It is already too late because once the generations of great-grandchildren pass by, it will be difficult for anyone to remember.

Q.- What do you think of the government’s draft Law of Democratic Memory (to honor victims of Franco’s dictatorship and the Civil War that preceded it)?

A.- The law (…) is necessary because it finally puts the graves in the hands of the administration. Up to now, those graves that have been opened were done with the help of individuals, volunteers, and it should be the institutions that take charge of them.

Q.- Motherhood is a recurring theme in your films, but here you talk about it from a new perspective, the imperfect mothers.

A.- For me they are more complex than imperfect. That a mother can say ‘I just didn’t have maternal instinct’ is very hard to recognize and it is even harder to say it and be aware that it has been fatal for your daughter, as Aitana does in her monologue.

Q.- You also talk about friendship between women, what is so special about it?

A.- I have always believed in the strength of friendship between women, the sorority. In ‘All About My Mother’ the family is them, the way Cecilia Roth’s character adopts Penelope Cruz’s character even though it doesn’t suit her? I’ve seen that sense of female sisterhood a lot throughout my life and it’s something I like to have in my films.

Q.- Through the character of Milena Smit, you deal with the way the new generations relate to each other. What interested you?

A.- Everything that has to do with the sexuality of young people, their first contact with sex is through porn and that makes their first sexual relations be modeled on what they have seen in pornography. I think it is terrifying.

The character of Milena, that teenage mother, comes from those kinds of youth orgies in which they barely know what they are doing.

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