Venice Notes: Tilda & Pedro, A Match Made in Cinema Heaven

by Elisabeth Sereda September 10, 2020
Tilda Swinton and Pedro Almodóvar

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Tilda Swinton did not just come to the Lido to collect an award – the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement no less – and wear a great mask, she also starred in and introduced The Human Voice, a short film by Pedro Almodóvar, a man she has admired greatly for many years. Wearing a yellow Haider Ackerman blazer and her newly red hair, she paid tribute to the Spanish master: 

“My relationship with Pedro Almodóvar’s cinema started with the cinema of William Wyler and George Cukor, Billy Wilder, and then Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown was the first time I saw his spirit and I’ve been entirely besotted by his cinema ever since.” Their meeting was fate, she said: “I have a friend at home in the north of Scotland who’s a Benedictine monk, and I see him occasionally, and he always says he’s going to remember me in his prayers. And one day he said to me, “I have a special prayer for you to work with Pedro Almodóvar.” And I thought it was ridiculous because I’m not Spanish, I don’t speak Spanish, but as Pedro and I have discussed many times, there’s this language of cinema which is a complicity between us, and it’s an incredibly proud moment for me to sit beside him, between these two, it’s literally a dream come true.” Almodovar, in a Black & White flowery shirt, blushed at the compliment: “I’m very awkward with this,” he laughed.

The Human Voice marks the first time for director and producer where the main performance is entirely in English. But Agustìn Almodovar had nothing but praise for Swinton: “It was a wonderful experience thanks to Tilda who has made it very easy. We had the feeling of English in the first moments, but as soon as the shooting took shape and the first two days went by, we had the same feeling as when we shot with actresses and actors who have been working with Pedro for a long time.” In the 30-minute film, an adaptation of Jean Cocteau, Swinton plays a lonely woman waiting for a phone call from an old lover. The short got rave reviews and scenic applause.

Tilda Swinton in “The Human Voice” (2020)

Tilda Swinton in The Human Voice (2020)


Almodóvar got very contemplative when asked about the age of pandemic we are all living in: “The lockdown has reduced us all to being home, and I think it has shown several things. It has shown, for example, to what extent people depend on fiction. I think that fiction has been one of the great ways to fill time and to entertain oneself, and when I say fiction, I also mean culture. I believe that it is much easier now to tell the public that culture is absolutely necessary.” But he also sees the downside: “Lockdown has shown us that our homes can be a place where we are in prison. Where you can work, eat, and live inside. The opposite of all this is the cinema. Going to the cinema means going on an adventure. As a director and at the same time as a spectator of a film of mine being shown in a movie theatre, hearing the spectators breathe gives me a lot of information about how the film works. If a film of mine is on Netflix or on any other platform, I never have the feeling of how the movie meets the viewer.”

Almodóvar has big plans for the future. He hinted that a western is on the schedule, “a very colorful one”, he said. It would mean coming full circle for the director who came very close to directing Brokeback Mountain but bowed out because of the language, saying then that he prefers to stick with Spanish. Now he has broken that language barrier with his new short and a western would be a brand-new genre for him. However, first, he will start production on Madres Paralelas starring his muse Penélope Cruz in February. It is the story of two mothers who give birth on the same day. A perfect subject for Pedro Almodóvar, if there ever was one.