Saturday, July 13, 2013

I'm So Excited (Los amantes pasajeros)

I’M SO EXCITED (Los amantes pasajeros)        B     
Spain  (90 mi)  2013  d:  Pedro Almodóvar                 Official site 

Something of a throwback to the 70’s, a simpler era that delighted in VHR’s, video games, and expanding the limits of broadbased comedy with the launch of unedited cable telelvision, where social themes were often targeted with ever-expanding comic satire, not the least of which was the prevalence of more gay oriented characters.  But the nation as a whole has been slower to accept gay liberation than Civil Rights or feminist issues, largely due to the strict moral intolerance of certain religious groups, which extends to political leaders.  Pedro Almodóvar, however, has been on the forefront of queer cinema since the early 80’s, where his first commercially distributed film, PEPI, LUCI, BOM AND OTHER GIRLS LIKE MOM (1980), became a cult sensation and was actually released while the original bad boy of queer cinema, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, was still alive and making movies.  A film with zany characters that captured the spirit and sexual freedom of the times, with its campy style, outrageous humor, and explicit sexuality, it is the only film with an appearance by the director in one of his own films, where he’s seen as the judge of a penis size competition.  While both directors were among the first on the arthouse circuit to be seen internationally promoting openly gay films, Fassbinder had a tendency to attack a complacent contemporary bourgeois society, while Almodóvar’s subversive, counterculture nature was reflected in his earlier years writing comics and stories for underground magazines, featuring the marginalized lives of women, homosexuals, transsexuals, and drug addicts, where his satiric themes are often bathed in exaggerated Sirkian melodrama and extreme artificiality, using color as a way to express volatile emotions.  While Fassbinder was part of the New German Cinema movement challenging the political failings of postwar reconstruction developments, Almodóvar was part of a Madrid cultural renaissance that followed the death of Franco, unleashing a radically different agenda, which included carrying the mantle of advancing queer cinema after the death of Fassbinder at the premature age of 37 in 1982.    

Following several films with darker and grimmer themes, Almodóvar’s latest is one of his campier efforts, taking place almost entirely on an airplane from Madrid to Mexico City, where you’re almost surprised John Waters is not a passenger on this plane, as he would have found this his ultimate dream flight.  Set in the claustrophobic confines of exclusively business and first class passengers and the busy dealings inside the cockpit, as both the other air stewardesses and all the economy passengers have been sedated for the flight, called the “economy class syndrome,” depicting a middle class deep in slumber, seen as mindless and sheepish followers (where only the rich stay awake to plot the future), as they are in several Buñuel movies, VIRIDIANA (1961) or THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL (1962).  The film is a demented chamber drama of drugs, alcohol, and sexual excess further exaggerated by an all gay flight crew who have their own way of making passengers (and each other) comfortable.  With an inner-title that announces everything we are about to see is a work of fiction and bears no resemblance to reality, the audience is forewarned that everything that follows is a sunny Almodóvarian fantasy, splashed in color and a mocking artificiality, more of a coming out party celebrating the freedom of being gay, an over-embellished satire that pokes fun at queer culture while at the same time reveling in all manner of gay stereotypes.  What’s always interesting is there’s no requirement that the actors are actually gay themselves, but the beauty is that there be no reservations in playing gay characters.  In effect, that is the uniquely tolerant spirit underlying the liberating aspects of the film, that gays can be just as silly and stupid, but also observant, caring, and very much in love.  This film exaggerates the boundaries through overblown melodrama, but certainly humanizes the trio of gay flight attendants whose lives unravel with the zany passengers like an ongoing soap opera.  Once they discover the landing gear is missing and they’re simply circling aimlessly until receiving instructions on what to do next, the flight crew spends their time tossing down shots of tequila, drinking more champagne, whisky and wine, not to mention marijuana and the somewhat rare mescaline tablets, you’d think they’d all be walking on air with no need of a plane, but this eventually turns into a sex farce, where the Spanish title is “fleeting lovers,” all designed to calm the nerves.

Because of the stated emergency, the film suggests a state of paralysis, like a flying purgatory in the air accompanied by underlying feelings of fear and uncertainty, not really knowing what will happen when they try to land, but disaster is a distinct possibility, which may parallel the economic flux that is currently sapping the energy of Spain of late, as no one really has an answer for the economic woes, where just under 27% of the nation is currently unemployed, while the rate for those between the ages of 16 and 24 is 57%, calling them Spain’s lost generation.  But in this film, everyone’s heads are in the clouds and there is little interest in facing reality, where passengers storm the cockpit to register complaints about the service, which resembles a Marx Brothers routine, but when one of the flight crew, whose Pinocchio-like fate is he cannot tell a lie, spills the beans on everybody’s sexual interests, it quickly clears the room as everyone is suddenly familiar with everybody else all of a sudden.  To fill time and to alleviate nerves, the flight trio mimes an absurdly comic dance routine to the Pointer Sister’s “I’m So Excited,” I'm So Excited (Official Trailer) - In Theatres July 5 2013 - YouTube (60 seconds), though it appears no one on the plane is even paying attention, as they’re all mired in their own emotional distress, where the only available phone can be heard throughout the entire plane, offering no privacy, so one by one passengers call home and unearth their tiny tragedies that play out like serial episodes of Days of Our Lives, while each of the other passengers listen intently, enthralled by the elevated human drama.  These result in a series of smaller films within the film, where contact with people on the ground allows Almodóvar to extend his fantasy world to include overlapping vignettes of hyper real life incidents, adding additional characters, expanding the parameters of the story, and drawing a more vivid picture of the passengers on the plane, all of whom seem to be protecting secrets.  While much is sexually suggested in this film, some of which resembles late night porn on TV, nothing is actually shown, so this is in reality a rather mild and tame version of the subversive film this pretends to be.  While the film doesn’t delve too deeply into the human condition, nonetheless, it goes places few films dare to go by flaunting a free wheeling, guilt free sexuality, showing Almodóvar still has a wildly exaggerated sense of humor, with actors that effortlessly accentuate his rapid fire wit and screwball comedy, while adding plenty of decorous style and panache. 

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