Pedro Almodovar probably didn’t need to say that his latest movie is his ‘gayest film ever’. Short of having Gloria Gaynor selling popcorn on its opening night ‘Los Amantes Pasajeros’ couldn’t be more high camp.
But, much as we like a film set entirely on a circling plane waiting for a convenient ‘crash landing slot’ and featuring air stewards in body-con uniforms lip-synching disco anthems, we can’t deny feeling a little cheated by the notable lack of one essential in this latest Almodovar outing: Pedro, where’s Madrid?
The director may have been born in La Mancha and his home town, Calzada de Calatrava, is very proud of its famous son, but when it comes to making movies Pedro Almodovar is Madrileño to the core; he doesn’t do adoring, he doesn’t do postcard, he seldom does pretty but his take on Madrid is the city at its louche, sexy, seedy, enchanting and irresistible best.
We’ve no doubt Almodovar will be back filming in Spain’s capital very soon. In the meantime here are a few of his finest Madrid moments for you to enjoy. As the man says, ‘I like the idea of helping people to have fun.’
El Rastro Flea Market, Barrio de Ebajadores
When 17 year old Pedro Almodovar first arrived in Madrid in 1967 he worked Sundays at El Rastro. 16 years later this huge flea market, one of the oldest and most famous in Europe, featured in the opening sequence of the young director’s first movie ‘Labarinto de Pasiones’ (1982). El Rastro is in the centre of Madrid and open from 9am to 3pm on Sundays and Bank Holidays. Get there about 10.30 for a browse around the 3500 stalls and shops and you’ll be ready for a tapas lunch in one of the local bars or cafés. Then spend the rest of the afternoon catching up on what you missed in the morning. Good for: young designers selling clothes, bags, shoes, jewellery; rare and collectable books; paintings, drawings and art supplies; and at Calle Mira el Sol, movie memorabilia – of course. Kids furiously trading cards and magazines is a not to be missed moment of young Madrileño passion.
Café del Circulo de Bella Artes, Calla Alcala 42
Victoria Abril and Peter Coyote sit surrounded by ludicrous Belle Epoque opulence, she looks gorgeously sinister and he muses on the ease of murder. The film is Almodovar’s ‘Kika’ (1993) and the opulence is courtesy of Café del Circulo de Bella Artes. As part of the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, the Café del Circulo is almost sacred in Madrid (the Academy’s former pupils include Picasso and Dali and the Café has an astonishing art collection spanning five centuries – yes, that Goya on the wall is authentic). This is a superbly decadent place to pay tribute to the lush, overblown, melodramatic darkness of Almodovar and it’s also excellent for breakfast – popular for Sunday lunch so get there early – and there is no shame whatsoever in taking a drink at the bar as early as 10am (you’re on Spanish time in Almodovar’s Madrid remember).
Plaza Mayor, Calle Mayor
‘La Flor de mi Secreto’ (1995) involved quite a bit of dancing and while we couldn’t find the location for the pas de deux with Marisol Muriel and Joaquin ‘any old excuse to get my shirt off’ Cortés, we can point you to Plaza Mayor right in the centre of Madrid. Here, one of ‘La Flor de mi Secreto’s’ main characters dances alone in the early morning across the vast deserted square surrounded by upright bourgeois architecture. We’re thinking you won’t have Almodovar’s clout with the local council so you’ll have to brave some crowds but Plaza Mayor’s worth it for deep fried calamari sandwiches and cold cider.
Cine Doré, Calle Santa Isabel
Cine Doré is one of the unsung heroes of Almodovar’s disturbing and touching ‘Talk to Her’ (2002). In Madrid’s hectic but seductive Anton Martin District it’s a beautifully restored 1912 cinema showing up to four programmes a night for a few euros. Classics, foreign language (not Spanish), documentaries and indies show every evening except Monday. The cinema is also next door to the National Film Library and doubles as their screening room so little seen gems are not unusual.
Cementeria de la Almudena
If you like a cemetery (Almodovar does) this is the largest one in Europe. Over 5 million souls rest in 120 acres under monuments ranging in style from Neo-Classical to typical Madrileñan. Don’t expect leafy and wistful like Highgate or parts of Montparnasse, this is a typically austere Spanish cemetery but fascinating all the same. Almudena makes brief appearances in quite a few Almodovar movies notably ‘Volver’ (2007) and ‘Carné Trémula’ (1997).
Lavapiés District (close to El Rastro)
With its narrow winding streets and alleys, skinny buildings and endless balconies Lavapiés not only turns up regularly in Almodovar films it’s also one of our favourite places to stay in Madrid. Lavapiés was originally the city’s Moorish quarter, then mainly a working class district and now it’s Madrid’s centre for alternative, artistic, ethnic and 24/7 something going on somewhere.
Museo Chicote, Gran Via
Not strictly a location in any Almodovar film (although the neon and traffic insanity of the Gran Via are writ large in ‘Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown’ (1988)) Museo Chicote is a Madrid icon and has played host to the likes of Hemingway, Grace Kelly, Sophia Loren et al in its time. Today it still attracts movie stars, Madrileño ‘it’ types and Pedro Almodovar. 1930’s decor, seriously good DJ’s after midnight and claims that over 100 of the world’s most famous cocktails were first mixed here.
Bocaito, Calle Libertad
One of the best tapas bars in Madrid and a favourite haunt of Almodovar who’s quoted as saying, ‘Bocaito is the best anti-depressant ever’. Fantastic olives and jalapeno peppers are another good reason to go.
Madrid is all over almost all Almodovar’s movies and, while he’s had flirtations with the likes of Barcelona and Toledo and even Santiago de Compostela, it’s the capital he comes back to time and time again.
We’ve scratched the surface and given you a few ideas (we hope). But to be honest Madrid, like every great European city, makes you feel like you’re in a movie anyway. So our last word on the subject has to be: visit Madrid and make sure you’re as glorious as Penelope Cruz or as elegant as Antonio Banderas at all times and you’ll be just fine.
Los Amantes Pasajeros (I’m So Excited) opened in the UK on Friday 3rd May 2013.