The 2013 Los Angeles Film Festival launched Thursday night with a delightful romp and an even more delightful personal appearance from director Pedro Almodovar, who used the annual Film Independent celebration of all things indie as the vehicle for the North American premiere of his latest picture "I'm So Excited."
In his rambling intro to the evening, Almodovar thanked his brother Agustin Almodovar, who has been producing his films for him with Coen brothers-like devotion for more than 25 years. He pitched the movers and shakers in the house to hire three of his actors for American movies. He talked about his new film excitedly, completely ignoring the "no spoilers" rule of introductory remarks before a screening.
And he horsed around onstage with longtime collaborator Javier Camara, whom he described as an ideal actor for a director whose bearhug humanism envelops human beings of all sizes, shapes and proclivities: "He can be a man. He can be a woman. He can be hairy or bald. He can be fat. He can be thin. He can be whatever you want him to be." The massive audience in Regal Cinema's packed Theatre No. 1 ate out of his hand.
"I'm So Excited" is a Rabelaisian farce that takes place almost entirely on an airplane in flight with landing gear trouble. It's also a movie that has already been hailed as a return to the broad form of '80s carnal carnivales like "Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down!" — films that launched Almodovar's career. Drugs, alcohol, family reunions and sex with strangers are all par for the course here for a director who has always been a libertarian as well as a libertine.
As ever, Almodovar manages to make the most decadent behaviors imaginable seem positively wholesome thanks to his skill with extracting nuanced performances from his actors and the all-embracing humanism that fires his work.
Whether it's a cranky dominatrix, a lovelorn hitman, a gay pilot passing for straight or a criminal financial mastermind in the grip of scandal, Almodovar believes passionately in every person's right to screw up everything about his or her life, and he also has faith in the human animal to imagine its way out of all of life's traps, usually via a lunge toward companionship driven by the id. In "I'm So Excited!," he sees once again all the foibles and pretensions and vanities people are prone to, laughs at and treasures each one, and then forgives us everything.
A master of the double entendre who assured the audience last night that in Spanish "I'm So Excited!" translates both as it reads in English and as "I'm So Horny!," Almodovar has called it "my gayest film ever!" It might be, both in the pansexual affirmation of its plotting and in the old Victorian sense of the word "gay," as in merriment. An auspicious opening for LAFF, a festival that hopes as ever to be not just a showcase for film but also a celebration.
Filmmaker R.H. Greene is covering the L.A. Film Festival for Off-Ramp