I originally watched Almodóvar's "Los Amantes Pasajeros" when it came out in 2013. At the time, I ended not writing about it, thinking it silly and generally agreeing with the poor reviews. Watching it again, I couldn't help thinking how hollow it really is. There really isn't much holding it together. Almodóvar was clearly trying to emulate his earlier comedies but failed completely to capture the effortlessness and the energy of, say, "Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios".
A technical problem in a flight causes the plane to have to circle for hours on the air, in the hope that an empty runaway is found to have it land. Despite the (preposterous) catastrophe film premise, this is just an excuse to put crew and first class passengers together, exposing their problems. The economy class (and the female crew) are drugged - a political satire element that the director hammered in press interviews at the time of the release.
Many of director's usual actors were on call: Javier
Cámara, Lola Dueñas, Cecilia Roth, Antonio Banderas, Penélope Cruz,
etc.. However, while he may have relished the opportunity to
work again with many favourites, the character list is too long and in need of an edit. This is a major problem - the first class passenger list is too big for a 90
minute film and we spend too much time changing from one to the other. Random subplots go nowhere, most noticeable the actor who decides to take sleeping pills and the newly weds, who contribute little more than eye candy
to the film. As a result, and with the exception of Lola Dueñas's character, I couldn't
care less if all of them had disappeared or died when the plane finally
lands. The crew fared better, partly because their soap-opera style antics are far more relatable
than pseudo-political/financial/sexual scandals, some of them perhaps too specific to the Spanish context.
Javier Cámara makes the most of having the best character in the film
and gives the best performance. Whether he is panicking or drunk, he
commands your attention. Alas, this says far more of his acting ability than anything to do with the film. Banderas and Cruz provide cameos (while causing the aforementioned technical problem), Dueñas and the actors playing the rest of the crew do well and Roth is completely wasted.
At the time of "La Piel que Habito" I mention "the absence of his trademark random strange
characters (again, no transsexuals, no drag queens, although there is a
surrogate mother) and the colour palette which has toned down the reds
and oranges that intoxicated "La Mala Educación" and "Volver"". These are back - sort of. The colour palette is toned up again, even if only a little bit, and while there aren't transsexuals or drag queens, there are plenty of random strange characters (a dominatrix and most of the crew come to mind). But disappointingly, most parts often drift to stereotypes that would cause an outcry if not coming from an openly gay director. Having said that, the relationship between the captain and Cámara's character is by far the most rewarding element of the film, with Hugo Silva's closeted co-pilot storyline the funniest (if not particularly original or deep) mostly thanks to the actor's charm.
The bizarre "I'm so Excited" sequence, where Cámara and the other two gay stewarts perform and lipsync to the song is both surreal and technically the most interesting sequence in the film. But it serves no other purpose than providing an odd English title of the film, missing the double meaning of the word "pasajeros" in Spanish (i.e. passengers and transient).
His next film, coming out in 2016, is supposed to be a melodrama. My hopes are still high. Melodrama has suited him better in recent years. And even if it ends an honourable failure like "La Piel que Habito", surely it won't be as hollow as this. But perhaps the lesson here is that one shouldn't try to redo the past. In trying to do so, Almodóvar missed its soul.