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Pedro Almodóvar’s lockdown diaries: Of laughter and libidos

A still from ‘Ash Is Purest White’   | Photo Credit: MK2 Films

As the global coronavirus death tally mounts, some nations are back to normal, or, to use the current catchphrase, the ‘new normal’. Others have achieved normalcy, while still others appear to have normalcy thrust upon them, as no doubt the Bard would have said if he were around today. Continuing with Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar’s lockdown diaries, serialised in Sight & Sound and Indiewire, the third part is one long list of book and film recommendations.

While I leave it to you to discover the literature recommendations, let us look at the films he endorses. Correctly deducing that the mood of his public is for comedy, Almodovar suggests several classics of the genre, mostly from Hollywood. These include Monkey Business, The Philadelphia Story, Midnight, To Be Or Not To Be (the Lubitsch version, not the Brooks one), The Front Page, His Girl Friday, Some Like It Hot, Rich and Famous, I Was a Male War Bride, A Star Is Born (the Cukor version) and Design For Living. To these, he adds Ramon Fernandez’s Spanish comedy Casa Flora. “With this set of battery-charging gems, all you need to do is stay at home, walk up and down the corridors between films, speak to friends, family members and lovers on the phone and Skype,” writes Almodovar.

In his fourth diary entry, he muses about the hunger for human contact and does a ring around of his friends to see what lockdown had done to their libidos. Apart from one desperate friend who made arrangements for clandestine sex in toilets, most, like Almodovar himself, seemed to have vastly reduced erotic needs. He also ponders a screenplay scenario where a sex worker and her client decide to spend the quarantine together for practical reasons, including a discounted price for her services. In this diary too, Almodovar recommends films, this time about thwarted love. These include Strangers When We Meet, The End Of The Affair, Letter From An Unknown Woman, Lift To The Scaffold, Bonjour Tristesse, La Notte, I Vitelloni, The Soft Skin, and In A Lonely Place.

Elsewhere, the global lockdown has resulted in a flurry of creativity. The pandemic caused the Thessaloniki Film Festival to go online. Rather than sit on their laurels, they commissioned seven filmmakers to create quarantine shorts inspired by late French essayist Georges Perec’s Species of Spaces, in which he contemplates how we occupy the spaces around us.

Among the filmmakers interpreting Perec is Chinese auteur Jia Zhang-ke, whose iPhone-shot short, Visit, features a visitor to his home and the sanitary measures with which he is greeted. In a letter published in Dutch magazine De Filmkrant, Jia writes evocatively from quarantine in Beijing. “I am hoping that we could go back to cinema early, sitting together, shoulder to shoulder,” he writes. “This is the most beautiful gesture of mankind.”

Touched by Jia’s letter, Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul responded, also in De Filmkrant. Describing the return to cinema experience, he writes, “There’s a buzz of total-awareness energy that has been exchanged between the people and the screen.” It’s like what Jia described in his letter: “…sitting together, shoulder to shoulder.” And yes, “this is the most beautiful gesture of mankind.”

Naman Ramachandran is a journalist and author of Rajinikanth: The Definitive Biography, and tweets @namanrs

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Printable version | May 10, 2021 11:19:14 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/naman-ramachandran-on-pedro-almodovars-lockdown-diaries/article31589557.ece

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