Anti-Macho Man : Director Pedro Almodovar Once Performed in an Underground Drag Band and Wrote a Pornographic Comic Strip, now in Eight Acclaimed Movies, He Continues to Relentlessly Skewer Traditional Spanish Values

<i> Jordan Elgrably recently returned to the United States after 10 years in Paris and Madrid. He is the L.A. correspondent for Vogue Espana</i> .

DON’T ASK PEDRO ALMODOVAR HOW HE MADE THE QUANTUM LEAP from rebel of Spain’s counterculture to mainstream symbol of commercial respectability. While he hates to admit he’s no longer on the edge, he also challenges the bad-boy reputation that has followed him everywhere.

“Hombre,” the director says, a corona of cigarette smoke framing his cherub’s face as he takes a break on the set of his new movie, “High Heels,” “my success surprises me because, I tell you, success is a miracle.” Almodovar’s voice is dreamy but emphatic: “I’m not an enfant terrible. This is a label the mass media has stuck on me since I began, but when I look at myself, from the beginning, I don’t see an enfant terrible.

What he does see is a storyteller. In talking about the trip from cult figure to his present position as a superstar on the international film circuit, the 40-year-old director recalls that “ever since I was a kid, I’ve always told stories to others. At the root of it was the desire to make things up, to fabular ,” he says.

Risky pictures--stories that persistently challenge every conventional attitude in a Spanish society once teeming with fascists, religious fanatics and sexist, homophobic males--are this fabulist’s ticket, and in just a decade of filmmaking his movies have gone from a bottom-line budget of $5,000 to $5 million. Whether the screenwriter-director’s uninhibited portraits of bisexuals, homosexuals, transsexuals and female impersonators form an autobiography or a subjectively surreal urban anthropology, he won’t exactly say, but Almodovar does acknowledge that his work “is autobiographical on the level of my sensibilities. I am represented in my movies.”

So, apparently, is an enormous cross-section of contemporary Spain. The director’s previous eight features have made him, in company with the president and the king, the most talked-about Spaniard at home as well as his country’s cultural commissar abroad. In the United States, he’s one of the few bankable foreign directors these days. At home, in a register of expressions from wicked to resigned, Almodovar’s portrait dominates Spanish magazine covers, and midnight shows of his early films, all raised to cult status, are invariably sold out. He is a tireless self-promoter, more for the life of his movies than his own fame, which was assured in 1988 with the international triumph of “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.” Almodovar is also the eponym of the effervescent culture that kicked off la movida, the popular movement set off by Francisco Franco’s death in 1975. Spain is in its post- movida period now, growing richer and more complacent, but Almodovarismo-- a word for hyperbole and radical passion--shows few signs of letting up.

“What I think most people find in his movies is a great sense of freedom,” says Angel Fernandez Santos, a film critic at El Pais, Spain’s largest daily newspaper. “He is, for me,” says Cuban novelist Guillermo Cabrera Infante, from his exile in London, “very much in the vein of those Spanish creators like Garcia Lorca, very distinctive and daring for his time.” Says artist and photographer Javier Vallhonrat--whose own images of women and fashion are another reason why Spain is in the vanguard of European art--"Almodovar is incredibly close to a part of Spanish human beings that is very, very vulnerable and fragile. He has a vision that shares irony and tenderness in very beautiful proportions. Also, he’s a rebel.”

Almodovar began his cinematic rebellion in 1980, while he was still a functionary at Telefonica, Spain’s national phone company. His first film, “Pepi, Luci, Bom and Other Girls on the Heap,” was a chaotic romp through Madrid described by one critic on its release as “overturning with true daring the most respected taboos of our ridiculous society.” Almodovar then shocked the devout with his depiction of lesbian nuns and an unconventional convent in “Dark Habits,” in which Mother Superior is strung out on smack, Sister Rat writes porno novels and Sister Lost--played by Almodovar’s longtime muse, Carmen Maura--dotes on a wild tiger she calls her “son.” But it was Almodovar’s rawest picture to date, the homoerotic “Law of Desire,” that made him a cause celebre in Europe. “Law” broke 1986 box-office records in Spain while proving the viability of El Deseo, the thriving independent production company Almodovar formed that year with his brother Agustin.


For the generation that came of age in Franco’s twilight years, everything seemed ripe for change, and Almodovar, who migrated to Madrid from a small town in the rural province of La Mancha, found himself hoisting the banner of sexual liberation and individualism along with other youths whose lust for personal freedom brought about a social renaissance. It’s no Almodovarismo to suggest that the country was literally reborn in the late ‘70s: In their belated rush to catch up with other Western hedonists, Spaniards indulged in sex, drugs and fiestas as never before, and Almodovar’s crowd flaunted its new, unfettered naughtiness. For his part, Almodovar, while working for the phone company by day, vamped it up at rock clubs by night, wearing fishnet stockings and miniskirts and belting out salacious punk songs in tandem with “Fanny” McNamara.

Even the political agenda reflected the youth culture; in the space of seven short years, from the generalissimo’s burial to the inauguration of President Felipe Gonzalez in 1982, Spain held its first free elections since 1936, drafted a new constitution and welcomed the Socialist Party to power. Censorship officially ended in 1977, with the release of Luis Bunuel’s “Viridiana,” which had been banned following its premiere in Cannes in 1961.

In the years following la movida , Almodovar’s movies also may have contributed to his compatriots’ changing sexual attitudes. “With all due modesty,” he says, “I believe (my films) have helped. Fortunately, you know, a lot of the stereotypes have vanished in the last 15 years. I mean, the Spaniard no longer wants to be confused with the Latin lover, who now seems like an almost grotesque figure, and man feels less doubt in showing his vulnerabilities and weaknesses and limits and imperfections.

“Spanish society has changed enormously in respect to the independence of women and in respect for homosexuality,” Almodovar says. After a healthy pause, he declares: “This means that you never have to set out to prove yourself the way you might in the United States, where you’re often expected to say, ‘I’m bisexual, I’m heterosexual, I’m homosexual,’ almost as if you’re presenting your business card.”

ONE TORRID SUMMER AFTERNOON, Almodovar is filming “Tacones Lejanos” (“High Heels”) at a redbrick university hospital on the periphery of Madrid. (The film opened in Los Angeles last month.) With stars Marisa Paredes, Victoria Abril and Miguel Bose, the director is trying to wrap up the deathbed scenes in his story about passionate relationships among a mother, daughter and their shared lover. “High Heels,” Almodovar says, explores “women in revolt, women who kill their men.” With pop-icon protagonist Becky del Paramo, he hopes to create his first truly wicked woman, whose shame is her failure as a mother: She abandons her only child in Spain so she can pursue film and concert deals in Mexico and South America, and before she knows it, 15 years go by. When she comes home, daughter Rebecca is scarred by a love-hate obsession for her famous mom.

Oblivious to the buzz in the hospital corridor and the patients and doctors who watch as he maneuvers between cast and crew, Almodovar occasionally passes a hand across his prominent eyebrows to wipe away the sweat. He is stout, six feet tall, with a thick bush of black hair and large black eyes that in conversation express docility rather than the wild passion of his movies; in baggy pants and billowy shirt, the director would make a tempting subject for any caricaturist. Contrary to his flamboyant persona, though, there’s nothing frivolous about him, and as he moves around the hospital like a chief surgeon reviewing his staff, there is a sense that all the Madrilenos present hold Almodovar in the highest regard.

For the last 10 weeks, Almodovar has spent morning hours going over his shooting script (rewritten seven times), watching rushes and preparing for the day’s shoot, which begins at 3 in the afternoon and has been known to last as late as 7 a.m. He reserves his weekends for rehearsals. Conferring with cinematographer Alfredo Mayo, Almodovar ignores the no-smoking signs, eyeing the actors who wander about in character, theatrically muttering under their breath.

“Vamos!” he calls out, anxious to get things under way. Meanwhile, first assistant director Yousaf Bokhari Bustamente talks about Almodovar’s reputation as an actor’s director. “Pedro doesn’t always know the technical parameters of setting up a shot,” says Bustamente, “but he always knows the end result he’s looking for.” That nothing misses this former performer’s attention is underscored when the art director appears to get Almodovar’s approval on the color scheme to be used in a later sequence. “He dominates everything,” says Pierre-Louis Thevenet, who won an Oscar in 1971 for his work on “Patton.” Seeming not to mind Almodovar’s control over the most minute details, Thevenet reports that “Pedro chooses the furniture, the curtains; he goes off to Paris to buy materials. He’s very passionate when it comes to working.”

At 5 o’clock, at last, the camera begins to roll. Almodovar sighs audibly as the drama unfolds: Becky del Paramo suffered a stroke on stage last night, during a comeback performance before thousands of fans. Rebecca has just heard the news and is rushing down the hospital corridor in a hot-pink, body-hugging Chanel dress, accompanied by a judge who wishes to question the stricken star while there’s still time. As it happens, both mother and daughter are prime suspects in a murder investigation: the victim--here’s an Almodovarismo-- was at once Becky’s lover and Rebecca’s husband.

As the judge waits outside with the chaplain, Becky--played by Paredes with the intensity of a great movie star, recalling two of Almodovar’s American favorites, Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis--is lying on her deathbed, expended, ghostlike. She demands the truth from her weeping daughter; Mayo’s camera zooms in for a close-up, and Rebecca (Victoria Abril) confesses in a whisper: Yes, it was she who shot Manuel, the adulterous s.o.b. Then there is another of many breaks as Almodovar sits, smoking, and reviews the footage on a video monitor, his fleshy face screwed in concentration, while Alfredo Mayo has the camera moved; the effect of the afternoon heat is allayed somewhat by a technician who dutifully fans the director with a hand-painted abanico of red silk.

Finally, Mayo is ready for what Almodovar insists is the diva’s Last Great Performance, and he calls the actors to their places. Miguel Bose, a rock star with a large following in Europe and Latin America and with several screen roles to his credit, makes a peculiar judge, but this is part of Almodovar’s central intrigue. Crouched at the foot of the bed, Almodovar speaks in soft, urgent tones, coaxing the actors as if they were his children. “Drink Becky’s words,” he instructs them. “Remember, this is the triumph of the matriarchy!”

When a mother confesses to a murder she did not commit to clear her daughter, there is nothing the judge can do. Later, during the dinner break, Almodovar explains that “there’s a completely natural alliance between these women. When their love is thrust up against the law of men, which is represented by the judge,” he says, “they will always be stronger. I told Miguel to walk away rejected and angry, because this was the triumph of the matriarchy, and he knew that he couldn’t fight it.”

WITH “WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERvous Breakdown,” an utterly anti-romantic comedy about lonely women and the war of the sexes, Almodovar marshaled the kinds of performances from women that prompted critics to call him a women’s director. Made with the Spaniard’s iconoclastic blend of social satire, aesthetic kitsch, high-pitched melodrama and a cast of fun-house characters, “Women” brought Almodovar an Oscar nomination for best foreign picture. Though this proved to be his breakthrough picture, bringing him fame in Hollywood, Spanish critics considered “Women” tame in comparison to the director’s earlier shockers, and in 1990’s “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” he returned with a more provocative encore.

“A raunchy peep show for highbrows,” as one columnist called it, “Tie Me Up!” brought Almodovar notoriety when the Motion Picture Assn. of America gave his “perverse” love story of kidnaping, bondage, drug abuse and radical passion an X rating. Outraged, he declared the rating an act of censorship and, with his U.S. distributor, Miramax Films, sued the MPAA on the grounds that the association had acted “arbitrarily and capriciously.” There was also, says a Miramax spokesperson, some speculation that the contested rating reflected a bias in favor of studio films and against independents.

As evidence, Miramax screened the controversial sex scene between Antonio Banderas and Victoria Abril for a New York judge, along with a selection of erotic scenes from such R-rated films as “9 1/2 Weeks” and “Fatal Attraction,” suggesting that “Tie Me Up!” was no more likely than those films to encourage depravity. In the end, the judge refused to overturn the X rating, and “Tie Me Up!” was released unrated.

With “Women,” Almodovar had become a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and so began a mutual courtship, with the Hollywood majors vying for the remake rights to “Women,” which were eventually secured by Tri-Star for Jane Fonda. Madonna invited him to the set of “Dick Tracy,” where she said she’d love to work with him, and Billy Wilder, Almodovar’s American idol, invited him to lunch. But the subsequent experience with “Tie Me Up!” may have soured the director on the idea of making a film here. It certainly put him in mind of Wilder’s word to the wise: Avoid Hollywood “at all costs.” In a long outcry published in El Pais, Almodovar described the MPAA’s policies as Machiavellian.

“It seemed to me an enormous act of aggression against an author,” Almodovar says now of the X rating. “It wounded me. I still would really like to make a movie in English, but I have to be very careful about any such endeavor.” Asked how he believes the R-rated erotic scene in “High Heels,” in which Miguel Bose fairly devours Victoria Abril, will go over in America, the director insists he’s remained faithful to his original vision. “My movies are like prostitutes for strait-laced people,” he says, smiling impishly. “It’s that sensation of the prohibited, of sin, that makes them even more attractive in a country of conservatives like the United States.”

While the director’s themes may appear risque elsewhere, in Spain they earn consistent accolades. A recent special issue of the arts magazine El Europeo, for instance, commemorated Almodovar as one of three artists whose work had most marked the decade of the ‘80s--the others were illustrator Mariscal, whose line drawings have sparked interest at Disney Studios, and Miguel Barcelo, a painter whose neo-abstract tableaux are fetching six-figure prices in trendy American galleries. What these three had most in common, El Europeo noted, was “the aesthetic of irony and parody.”

Almodovar agrees. “For about the last 10 years, the culture, and especially those in the vanguard--painters, singers, writers and so on--discovered that all the stereotypes were a stupendous material with which to work. And so now, as a matter of fact, the new generation of artists, most especially painters and musicians, use the entire range of stereotypical Spanish culture with enormous humor.”

In “High Heels,” irony appears in Becky’s melodramatic love songs, or boleros, which she sings with exaggerated pathos, and in a female impersonator, reminiscent of Almodovar’s early days as a punk rocker who dressed in drag--fishnet stockings and high heels de rigueur. Almodovar may be kinky, but he is above all irreverent. His gifts for comedy, caricature and sheer grotesquerie have made his films a must for anyone interested in understanding how Spain has progressed from the machista society it was in Franco’s day.

Says Carmen Corredor, chief news editor of the national affairs desk at Television Espanola, “Almodovar is a genius, because he broke with all the strictures. He captured very well the Spanish moment, the whole transition period and the changeover to democracy. He also captured the progressive mind-set, in particular what more marginal people were like.” Says Diego Munoz, film reviewer at El Pais: “Almodovar uses images from the streets, not the official culture. He’s a chronicler of modern times.”

After “What Did I Do to Deserve This?” became his first hit in Spain in 1985, the Ministry of Culture offered to underwrite 50% of his subsequent adventure, “Matador,” a film that promised a fresh interpretation of Spain’s national blood sport. In fact, Almodovar delivered a travesty of the Spanish Eros-Thanatos obsession, lampooning the bullfight while offering a dark ode to passion. His comic spirit was cloaked in the criminal lawyer who stabs her lovers with a hatpin upon climax and in a retired matador who is also a homicidal maniac. In the end, the two lovers come together for one last tryst, killing each other simultaneously--another instance of an Almodovarismo.

“Matador” was more successful elsewhere in Europe than in Spain, where the bullfighter remains an unassailable hero for many. But the sensitive portraits of men in that film prefigured the Fellini-esque “Law of Desire,” in which Pablo (a variation on the name Pedro), a director of popular homoerotic features, is plagued by a possessive lover (Antonio Banderas) while actually pining for another man who prefers friendship. In another of his improvisations on gender, Almodovar has a woman play Pablo’s brother, a transsexual named Tina (a variation on Agustin).

To get this straight, how is it that a gay director from the underground whose earlier work is regularly compared to art films by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, John Waters and Andy Warhol, makes low-budget features essentially feminist in nature and--in Spain of all places--triumphs at the box office? In fact, Almodovar had to succeed in foreign countries before Spain took full notice of him. When his third film, “Dark Habits,” drew raves at the 1983 Venice Film Festival, Spanish critics and intellectuals started to take an interest. Then, when former New Yorker critic Pauline Kael heaped praise on “Law of Desire,” El Pais reported it as front-page news.

As Almodovar’s fame increased abroad, his stature grew at home. In Spain, where American films and television programming have a lion’s share of the entertainment market--80% in 1990--Almodovar is considered an international heavyweight. According to figures compiled by the Ministry of Culture, four of his films are among the 20 highest-grossing movies made in Spain since 1966, and “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” is the country’s highest-grossing film ever, behind “E.T.,” “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” “Pretty Woman” and “Batman.”

Says Roberto Blatt, a philosopher and cultural analyst based in Madrid: “Almodovar’s success here is more the result of his acceptance abroad. He represents the new exoticism which Spaniards themselves are enamored of.”

By portraying Spaniards who are at least as progressive as their counterparts in Paris or London and by holding up Madrid as a rival to cosmopolitan New York, Almodovar makes his compatriots feel they’ve been put on the postmodern map. And as Almodovar’s films become increasingly streamlined, with higher production values, an international crew and greater emphasis on innovative fashion and design, the director’s private evolution parallels the direction in which Spain itself is heading--away from a recent past as one of Europe’s poorest countries to a capitalist economy flooded with commodities and a strong peseta. No wonder each new Almodovar movie is a national event, drawing both popular audiences and highbrows.

The novelist Javier Marias, one of Spain’s leading young intellectuals, says he goes to all of Almodovar’s films. “Everyone does, I suppose, even if it’s only out of curiosity. I mean, if there’s a new film by Almodovar, you must see it, because otherwise you won’t have anything to say in conversations for some months.”

LIKE MANY A YOUNG MAN NEWLY ARRIVED from the provinces, Almodovar was struck with wonder for Madrid--to him, a “Labyrinth of Passions,” the title of his second film--a city that he has explored as restlessly as the complex relationships that are the basis of his stories. A small-town dreamer educated by Franciscan priests, Almodovar was 17 when he finished high school and moved to the capital in 1967, a time when Madrid night life was just catching up with the Rolling Stones and David Bowie. His initial experience as a performer came in the theater troupe Los Goliardos, and later the Almodovar-McNamara duo appeared at the now-legendary clubs Rockola and Elijame, singing songs with lyrics such as “Suck It to Me.” He also authored adult comics for alternative newspapers and shot the foto-novelas --similar to comic books, using black-and-white photos to tell a story--that primed him for his first Super-8 shorts. “I did a short called ‘Sex Comes, Sex Goes,’ ” he remembers, “in which a boy falls in love with a lesbian and changes his sex in order to conquer her heart. But then he gets interested in men, and the lesbian feels totally offended because his very reason for having become a woman in the first place no longer applies.”

Almodovar’s skill as a director was born entirely of the trial-and-error method with which he made a dozen of these amateur shorts. “I’m a popular person in the best sense,” Almodovar says. “My origins are humble and everybody knows it.”

From 1979 to 1985, Almodovar wrote a regular column in La Luna in the guise of a beautiful international porn star named Patty Diphusa. This earlier facet of Almodovar’s androgynous personality has been revived in a collected volume titled “Patty Diphusa and Other Writings.” A bestseller in Spain, “Patty” will be published this spring in the United States. Patty Diphusa’s passions are “fashion, taxis, department stores, Madrid, radio, TV, all magazines and newspapers, and cafes,” declares the director’s alter ego, echoing the enthusiasm of a provincial who’s made it in the big city.

When critic Francisco Umbral dedicates an entire chapter of his latest book to Almodovar and calls him “a resolute postmodern,” he describes not only the director’s passion for Madrid--a city that was virtually created by the ‘60s economic boom--he also identifies the dislocation that is the common denominator between Almodovar and millions of Madrilenos who also migrated from the country.

Under the influence of his avowed “holy trinity"--directors Bunuel, Wilder and Alfred Hitchcock--Almodovar gorges himself on Spain’s sitcoms, soap operas and even commercials and especially delights in permutations of the counterculture such as transvestite cabaret and S&M; rock. He culls ideas from the weekly tabloids that write up the lifestyles of those he calls “the fauna of Madrid.” Recently the director--who still lives in a central Madrid apartment--was spotted doing a little research on a Sunday afternoon downtown. “He was standing in line at the 7-Eleven,” says my informant, “reading through a copy of Hola!"--a cross between the National Enquirer and People magazine.

“More than describing Madrid’s serious reality,” Blatt says, “Almodovar is giving free rein to a personal fantasy of cosmopolitan life, which is a ‘light’ view from the vantage point of a popular character newly arrived from the countryside. His ‘normal’ people are always eccentric. He uses them to give an impression of realism, but they are made interesting by the fantasies of their author.”

Whether Pedro Almodovar is imitating contemporary Spanish life or reinventing it, his production company is booming. Today, when the Spanish film industry is in crisis, producing an average of only 40 features a year--down from 100 in the first half of the ‘80s--El Deseo has three projects already slated for 1992. The Almodovars are producing two young Basque directors, who approached them with a a sci-fi thriller; an adaptation of Ruth Rendell’s novel “Live Flesh,” based on a screenplay by American Don Ferguson, and Almodovar’s next feature, as yet untitled, which the director has half written. El Deseo has also bought the rights to the Paul Bowles story “The Time of Friendship” and is negotiating the rights to Jane Bowles’ novel “Two Serious Ladies.”

IN THE PENULTIMATE week of production, “High Heels” has moved to a sound studio. This evening the director is shooting the scene that divulges the final surprise of “High Heels”: a female impersonator who plays Becky del Paramo reveals his other identity to Rebecca, confesses his love, proposes marriage and discloses a surprising truth.

When neither Victoria Abril nor Miguel Bose have quite grasped the twisted emotional tenor of the moment, Almodovar acts out both parts. He seems equally at ease as man and woman, working the lines till his actors are ready to take over. Four hours later, the crew, actors and Almodovar break into applause when at last they get the scene right.

“I’m very proud of the fact that throughout my career I’ve elicited marvelous performances from women,” Almodovar says later. “I’ve also elicited strong performances from men, but they’ve almost always been those of Antonio Banderas. So, I could cite five strong female performances in a movie and one masculine. So women win.”

Perhaps because Almodovar has always surrounded himself with women, or men dressing up as women, or impersonated one himself in the character of Patty Diphusa; perhaps because his best friend is actress and TV host Bibi Anderson--a man who became a woman--his films are considered signposts along the highway of sexual liberation as well as a celebration of women’s independence. Yet you can’t help but wonder just how much Almodovar’s personal fantasies, particularly of women, have to do with contemporary Spain.

“Neither the decors nor the characters nor the situations,” he says of his movies, “are realistic. Nevertheless, my challenge is to make them seem totally probable.” But at the same time, he insists, “a movie must be artificial. For me, a movie is the representation of something, and in such representation there is always distance and artifice.”

Pilar Miro, one of Spain’s rare women directors, says that although Almodovar’s women sometimes seem like caricatures, “I could recognize myself, my mother, my sister-in-law” in “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.” And, talking about Carmen Maura’s role as a man who becomes a woman in “Law of Desire,” critic Santos says Almodovar just may be portraying the “fantasies of the good Spanish housewife. He exaggerates, but, well, I think one should exaggerate a little, don’t you?”

Almodovar’s women may be eccentric creatures, but they are invariably imbued with heroic qualities. “My women have this vitality,” the director says, “where vitality is always stronger than the pain they may be suffering.” He calls Carmen Maura’s character in “What Did I Do to Deserve This?” his “Don Quixote of the Housewife” and says that Becky del Paramo’s sacrifice for her daughter shows that “mother love will always win out.” Such passion for women reflects Almodovar’s dual nature as an artist who desires men personally yet finds them less challenging in his art. “There’s something in the male character that bores me,” he says with a playful look.

In fact, it is an ongoing relationship with a lover he’s had for years (and whose identity he chooses not to make public), Almodovar says, that has been the basis for his exploration into the life of the couple. His close relationship to his mother, who has played cameos in several of his films, also contributes to his interest in “the triumph of the matriarchy.” Does his “High Heels” quest for women’s luz vital make him a committed feminist? “My films are absolutely in favor of woman’s autonomy in every sense. However, I probably don’t talk about it in purely feministic, militant terms, but rather as women living their own social hierarchy.”

Almodovar’s obsession with women seems so persistent, I inquire whether, like Bibi Anderson, he has ever considered a sex change himself. “No, no,” Almodovar says emphatically. “Nonetheless, I tell you, women fascinate me as a dramatic subject, as protagonists, and I’m equally fascinated by imitations of women. Bibi is one of my best friends, but for me she’s always been a woman. How can I say it? I always respect and admire these kinds of people who create not only their own personality but their own body, their own identity. I think it gives them enormous superiority. As a director, I create stories and characters, and I think that a person who changes sex is like the director of his or her own life.”

And when he talks about matriarchy, is he thinking of life in Spain? “And in America! What do you have to say about Reagan’s wife? Or Betty Ford? Woman is very strong, much stronger than man, and that’s all over the world.”