Expect more male characters from Pedro Almodovar, whose credits include such female-centered films as "All About My Mother," "Volver" and "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown."
With his latest Penelope Cruz collaboration, the Cannes Film Festival entry "Broken Embraces," Almodovar strikes some equality between the sexes and says he plans to feature more men in future films.
"There are as many male parts as there are female parts," Almodovar said before the premiere Tuesday night of "Broken Embraces." "So it's perfectly balanced.
"So far, my male characters intimidated me somewhat, because for a male character, I had to take myself as a reference," said Almodovar, who won Academy Awards for foreign-language film with "All About My Mother" and original screenplay for "Talk to Her." "But now I feel less and less intimidated, and so now, you're going to find more and more male characters in my films."
At the heart of "Broken Embraces" is a tragic love triangle involving film director Mateo (Lluis Homar), actress Lena (Cruz) and her jealous sugar daddy (Jose Luis Gomez), a wealthy businessman producing their movie.
Their story is told through flashbacks as Mateo, now a blind screenwriter who has sought to block out his past, chronicles a furtive affair that ends in catastrophe. The dark melodrama is sweetened with typical Almodovar comic touches, including a film within the film. This consists of snippets of a comedy Mateo is shooting that was inspired by "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown," the 1988 film that helped establish Almodovar outside Spain.
Almodovar spoke of his intense directing style, saying he'll do anything to make a scene real, "acting out all the roles on stage, which the actors think is really funny."
Once, he said, he even performed oral sex on an actress to show an actor what he wanted to achieve. He said that happened on the set of his fifth movie, though he didn't name the actress. Almodovar started directing in the 1970s.
For her fourth film with Almodovar, Cruz came to "Broken Embraces" after shooting Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," a Cannes premiere a year ago that earned her the supporting-actress Oscar. The two directors vary wildly in their work styles, said Cruz, who can spend months on an Almodovar film but shot her Allen role in just three and a half weeks.
"They could not be more different," said Cruz, who earned her first Oscar nomination for "Volver" and also worked with Almodovar in "All About My Mother" and "Live Flesh."
"With Pedro, we always rehearsed for a long time before. Woody doesn't like to rehearse. Maybe on the day we're shooting he will do one rehearsal just to see the positions of the camera, but he really likes everybody to improvise."
While "Broken Embraces" gives equal time to men, Almodovar said women remain the stronger sex in his stories. The Spanish filmmaker said that, until about age 8, he grew up almost exclusively in the company of his mother and other women, a generation tempered by hard postwar conditions in the 1950s.
"The male characters which come to mind when I make the films are terrible, horrible characters," Almodovar said. "That's how it is. I'm just a medium through whom my stories are written, and if the male characters (are) this kind that come to me, that's how it will be."
One of the male characters perpetrates a dastardly artistic crime — despoiling Mateo's film by editing together a version from the worst takes then premiering it to a disastrous critical reception.
Almodovar had blunt words about what would happen if such an act ever were committed against him.
"If that happened to me with one of my films, I think I would kill the producer or person who destroyed the material that I had shot," Almodovar said. "For me, a film has to be fully respected as it was imagined and designed by the author."