Regardless of Pedro Almodóvar's much self-evident talent, there have been grumblings over the past few years about the apparent dwindling returns in his work. Nothing too worrisome; three masterpieces in a row (Todo Sobre Mi Madre, Hable con Ella and La Mala Educación) isn't very usual these days, Volver and Los Abrazos Rotos weren't exactly strikeouts even if they were a few notches, and the gothic melodrama of La Piel en que Habito suggested the director was aware his string of exquisite cinephile "women's pictures" was drying up.

     Just as La Piel en que Habito looked back to earlier, edgier works such as Matador or La Ley del Deseo, Los Amantes Pasajeros sets itself up as a deliberate throwback to his earlier, zanier comedies, as well as a unabashedly fun, day-glo reaction to the glossy, clinical formalism of the previous film. It's also further evidence of Mr. Almodóvar's film-buff touch: playing up the phoney-looking sets and Technicolor colour schemes of  1960s and 1970s low-budget comedies, the film is structured as a series of quasi-Tashlinian sketches (if Frank Tashlin pushed the gay envelope), set mostly inside an airplane's business class cabin, and loosely connected through a gossamer-thin Airport-style plot.

     It turns out that the Madrid-Mexico City long-haul flight has a landing gear malfunction and is circling Spain waiting for a runway to be cleared for an emergency landing. Aboard there's a womanizing TV star (Guillermo Toledo), a high-flying madam (Cecilia Roth) convinced the malfunction is an attempt on her life, a mysterious Mexican (José María Yazpik) who looks like a contract killer, a financial executive (José Luis Torrijo), and a psychic (Lola Dueñas) who is convinced she'll lose her virginity on the flight. Factor in a trio of Pointer Sisters-lip-syncing flight attendants (Javier Cámara, Carlos Areces and Raul Arévalo), a bisexual pilot (Antonio de la Torre) and a macho co-pilot (Hugo Silva) and an endless string of camp, cheerful jokes and you get a fast-moving, almost revue-like comedy - a Latin Airplane!, if you will - bursting over with the director's trademark 1980s quirky, riotous wit, and transgressive sex burlesque. 

     The sly, satirical edge of those earlier films is only briefly touched upon (the financial executive is fleeing from a huge "white elephant" project that will turn out to be helpful towards the film's dénouement), and Mr. Almodóvar keeps the film moving along at full steam (though there's an inevitable comedown after the big Pointer Sisters musical number). It's very clear that his intention was never to add another serious effort to his recent filmography, but to make a break, even take a break, and just allow himself an unpretentious, enjoyable breather of a film. For all that, Los Amantes Pasajeros is very clearly an Almodóvar film, both in its quirky humour and in the effortless control the writer/director has over it; its apparent quirkiness and sense of throwaway looseness is proof Mr. Almodóvar made exactly the film he wanted to make, but had much more fun in the process, inviting both the cast and the audience to join in the revelry. And while no one will mistake it for a masterpiece, its cheerful liveliness is endearingly contagious. 

Cast: Antonio Banderas, Penélope Cruz, Coté Soler, Antonio de la Torre, Hugo Silva, Miguel Ángel Silvestre, Laya Martí, Javier Cámara, Carlos Areces, Raul Arévalo, Pepa Charro, Nasser Saleh, Concha Galán, José María Yazpik, Guillermo Toledo, José Luis Torrijo, Lola Dueñas, Cecilia Roth, Paz Vega, Blanca Suárez, Susi Sánchez, Carmen Machi, Violeta Pérez, Barbara Santa Cruz, María Morales
Director and writer: Pedro Almodóvar
Cinematography: José Luis Alcaine  (colour)
Music: Alberto Iglesias
Art director: Antxon Gómez
Costumes: Tatiana Hernández, Davidelfín
Editor: José Salcedo
Producers: Agustín Almodóvar, Esther García  (El Deseo in association with Blue Lake Media Group, Filmnation Entertainment and Spanish Television)
Spain/USA, 2012, 90 minutes


Popular Posts