One litmus test for auteurism could be whether a director is able to do his or her thing in a tightly confined space. Stagecoach and Lifeboat are unmistakably the work of John Ford and Alfred Hitchcock, despite being largely confined to, well, a stagecoach and a lifeboat.
Some thrive on this model, others seem perversely ill-suited to it: Roman Polanski’s Repulsion is in many ways his creation story, while part of the appeal of 127 Hours was seeing how the ceaselessly kinetic Danny Boyle would tell a story about a man stuck under a massive rock.
The vast majority of Pedro Almodóvar’s I’m So Excited (Os Amantes Passageiros in Portuguese) takes place on board a passenger jet, and there’s no question of it having been made by anyone but this Spanish filmmaker. High camp and high drama, family secrets and festering lies, the uses of storytelling and abuses of the unconscious, supernatural twists and melodramatic turns, telephones and television, the power of patterns – his signature concerns are all aboard and ready for take-off.
An opening disclaimer disavows any connection between the film and reality, but still I’m So Excited is something like a state-of-the-nation screwball farce. Business class bubbles with a handful of high-stakes plots with oblique socio-political resonance, revolving around a celebrity diva (Cecilia Roth), a dodgy banker (José Luis Torrijo), a mysterious Mexican (José María Yazpik) and a psychic virgin (Lola Dueñas). Economy is out cold en masse. The flight is in trouble.
The cabin crew (Javier Cámara, Carlos Areces, Raúl Arévalo) are dedicated to distraction, a hot mess of booze, drugs, blow-jobs and lip-syncs. There’s a dance break, a sex break, a lot of tequila. It’s crazy fun, even if it’s not always clear where it’s going.
As with any Almodóvar film, connections with his earlier work abound: we might think of the gazpacho from Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, the queasy bedside ethics of Talk to Her, the terrorist hijackers of Labyrinth of Passion. Indeed, with its sprawling satire and knockabout tone, I’m So Excited is the closest Almodóvar has come in years to early romps like Labyrinth, Pepi, Luci, Bom and What Have I Done to Deserve This?
The context, of course, has shifted from post-Franco liberation in Spain to post-meltdown anxiety: having endured one crash, these characters face another. The auteur’s advice is to try honesty and get laid. Fasten your seatbelts – it’s going to be a bumpy night.