Tell me about the film's opening scene....
The first scene is always useful for me to establish the themes which I'm going to deal with later on. The first sentence that is said in the film is,"Your son Juan is dead." In this scene, doctors attempt to explain a death to a relative, so that the grieving person can understand it. (The film also speaks of a death. It's the death of a feeling, but I think that it's equivalent in pain and in tragedy to the death of someone near.)
Now at the same time this is all fiction, a dramatization of the real thing. Which is the equivalent to say that all the characters in the film are living in a certain kind of imposture. They seem to be something that they really aren't or they are something else that they don't seem to be. Many of them act under a pseudonym.
The reality of the sequence is a seminar which is being taught by Leo's friend Betty, who is a psychologist, in order to teach doctors how to obtain relatives' authorization for the donations of organs. (Although this may seem surreal, these seminars actually take place in Spain.) And the psychologist that teaches this seminar, who is trying to teach the most humane and clear way for a doctor to explain the death of a relative, this specialist in bad news is unable to tell her best friend the bad news.
I think this is very human. There is a huge difference between life and work.I think of myself, for example. I'm able to make very tough decisions in my work that I can't make so quickly in my life. Theory is something and practice is something different. The husband of the protagonist is a strategist, and he knows professionally how to behave in a war but he can't handle his own domestic war. He goes to the Bosnian war escaping from his domestic war.
What is the source of Leo's pain? Why does she suffer so intensely?
Something very simple and very basic. The man that she loves does not love her. She has been living for a year or two in absolute uncertainty. That uncertainty, I think, is probably the worst feeling any person can live with. It is a cancer that seems to be eating away inside you, mining inside you. It corrodes everything--your security and your sense of life.
I think there is an obligation that lovers have towards the other person. When you are absolutely sure that you are no longer in love with the other person, you have to tell them. And you have to do so in a very clear way. Without being afraid of their reaction. Once you are sure that that feeling is completely finished, then you can act. You can face it. The problem is there. When Leo finally realizes that her marriage is over, she is so fragile, so weak that she doesn't have the strength for anything so she needs help. Fortunately, the help comes from her mother.
Why does Leo try to kill herself?
Leo is a woman who is lost, completely lost. One of the devastating effects of the end of her relationship. For the last few years the uncertainty has made her able to only think of him. The moment that he is out, there is nothing left of her life. In her world, there was only him. So when he's gone, nothing else exists.. After living two years of uncertainty, she is just too fragile. Look at the way she is portrayed in the first scene. It's enough for a pair of boots to be too tight, for her whole world to come crashing down.
After Leo's suicide attempt, Leo is on her way to unconsciousness when she hears the voice of her mother on the machine. Why does that voice revive her?
Leo is not only falling into unconsciousness, she's really being enveloped by the darkness of death. That moment when the mother's voice resonates from the answering machine, it is as if she has thrown a jar of cold water at Leo to bring her back from the hands of death and to silence death. That voice reminds Leo that she has a mother twenty kilometers away from her for whom Leo's death would probably signify her death. And it also is the voice that represents life. She says to her, "I've just fought with your sister; I'm very depressed." Things which seem very trivial, but which do represent what life is. At that moment, Leo thinks, "I can't do this to my mother. I have to take her back to the village." So in a way she comes back from that darkness to be able to take her mother back to the village. That scene is also shot in a way so that the voice goes through the corridor, all the way to Leo's bedroom, as if it was a smell that was travelling to knock on that door and wake her up.
The mother literally saves Leo's life but at the same time is a destructive element in her sister Rosa's life.
I created the mother as a portrait of my mother. But I wanted this to be a very realistic portrait, in the same way that the film is a realistic film. (Although I would actually say neo-realist, meaning the genre that was created by the Italian filmmakers.) I didn't want this to be an idealized portrait of my mother, because I think my mother's faults are much more interesting than her virtues and her qualities.
In the way she treats Leo's sister Rosa, she is aggressive, unfair and plain obnoxious. Now at the same time, she can't really live without Rosa. There are sometimes mother/daughter relationships that are condemned to scream at each other and be at each other's throats. They can't seen to conceive of life in any other way. By the same token, they can't live separately. Something that is pathetic and comic at the same time. And that is the way life is.
How does going back to the old village begin the healing process for Leo?
When she takes her mother home to the village, without realizing it, Leo has returned to the beginning of her own life, to the place where she was born. She in fact returns to the same bed in which she was born. And from there she starts again. She hears the same conversations she heard when she was little, from the same neighbors who are now older, who are doing the same thing they were doing forty years ago: embroidery by hand. She passes through the same doors that she did when she was little, she sees the same streets. This allows her recover her own signs of identity. It is very important in moments of crisis, to look for the few emotional references that you may have. I think those help to orientate you.
Another positive aspect in her life is her new friendship with Angel. It doesn't seem like they are destined to become romantic...
I think there is a very interesting moment in the relationship between a man and woman. If the couple hasn't made love, and there is reciprocity,.there is a moment where they become friends as opposed to lovers. I think that moment actually scares a man. But I think that is in fact something very positive. Because this friendship actually helps her to deal with her problems for a second time in a different way . Because it is a new friendship, it is more stimulating than usual. She doesn't need to jump into the arms of the first man that crosses her path.I think one of the things that made her suffer so much is that Betty is her only friend. That's a sign of her isolation.
Yes. She really has to begin almost from scratch. She's got to start with new habits. There really is a moment where you need company more than sex. When you get that company from your friends, you can be more selective when you do look for sex. Leo's friendship with Angel is going to help her to be a mature woman and to be the owner of her solitude. And that is very important. And to acquire little by little new habits without urgency.
The flamenco performance marks another step in her recovery...
I think that is the beginning of her realization that life can be very contradictory. It can be difficult, and at the same time very fair. There is a natural recycling of the things in life. In the blackest period of her life, she was helping to create something beautiful because someone--the son of the maid--was stealing from her to finance a work of art. And that is a very positive point of view, that something can be both destructive and creative. And it's part of the mystery of living.
The title of the flamenco dance, by the way, is "Loneliness." That loneliness comes out of that clash between the male figure and the female prototype. It ends with her on the ground, whereas he's dancing triumphantly.
Angel loves the romantic fiction that Leo can no longer bring herself to write.
At that moment in her life, Leo is needing authenticity, she's needing truth, and those novels represent exactly the opposite. The pink novels, romance novels seem to write about suffering and pain,. but she who knows what it is to suffer, knows that those novels don't reflect that at all. Even though she is earning her living from them, she's against them.
Angel can look at those novels in a different way. He can look at them as a kitsch phemomenon, and like.them very much. Probably for the same reason she looked at those novels and suffered. To her those novels put together with the pain she is feeling creates the rejection. He on the other hand, brings to his reading a lot of humor and the result is the opposite. Everything can have many different readings, depending on how you look at them. I am not trying to make any sort of judgement as to what is good literature or bad literature. I am trying to deal with the needs of each one at given moments in their lives. So this type of literature that for her is not acceptable, this is something that he likes. The difference is that for him it's a caprice, whereas for her, it's an obligation.
Leo's writing has changed in the movie you say it went from pink to black. Are you trying to consciously make a change in your cinema with this film to be more serious?
No. I have only changed genre and I think that change of genre is what really obligates a change in style. I think in fact there are films that are darker than this that I have made. I think both "Kika" and "Matador" deal with darker sides of me than this film. This film, although it may not be the most colorful I think is one of the most luminous films I've made, because they are two different concepts.
You shot the film completely in real locations, and often outside. Did you do this to show that the film was made in contemporary Spain?
Starting with the idea of a realistic film, I wanted to place the film in a very clear context and space. For example, you do see junkies in the streets of Madrid, just like in the film. The bar which she goes to is a bar that is very, very real. The screaming contest on TV. The protesting students. The reality is as absurd and as clear as we see it in the film.
Can you talk about your visual style in the film. For example, your use of mirrors...
The use of mirrors is really to try to amplify the spaces to make them larger. In an objective and very basic sense, the mirrors amplify or enlarge the space. Now at the same time they enlarge the space, they also manipulate it. In a way that is not artificial, but in fact very profound, almost as if they were X-rays. For example, in the scene where Paco arrives in the entry hall, the mirror in the hall serves to enlarge the small entry hall but by the same token since it is a mirror composed of many small mirrors, the effect it has is that of creating a fragmented image of a couple kissing. We never see lips. To show that they are in fact a fragmented couple.
The film recalls some old Hollywood movies ...
It does correspond well with the kind of films that were made in the 50s. What we call a "women's picture."--"Mildred Pierce," for example. That type of movie with Bette Davis or Susan Hayword. A big portrait of a lady. But the fifties were a naive period, and to do a story fifty years later, you need more complexity.