It's a crisp fall day in Manhattan and Pedro Almodovar is explaining why his hotel room is all wrong for a movie scene, in terms of its color scheme.
"I'd never have such a unicolor setting," he says, gesturing to couch, carpet and walls - all in related shades of beige. "It would all blend together. I'd have to have the couch be different from the wall and the picture.
"I decorate my own sets, starting with the walls and floors. I think of myself almost as a painter. It's very instinctive. I have ideas and theory and ultimately it's intuitive. Then I have five different chairs brought in and other furniture to see which works. I change it around so it works with my own palate.
"The reason is not just out of stubbornness or whim. It's the area that gives me the hardest time. I've shot 17 films with 17 art directors. Basically, we don't understand each other."
On this day, Almodovar has art-directed himself in blocks of basic color: a long-sleeve red knit shirt, blue jeans, black leather jacket, red and white sneakers. He's in Manhattan for the New York Film Festival screening of his new film, Broken Embraces, now in limited release and in hopes of a year-end awards bounce.
A student of cinema from a young age, Almodovar has made a romantic drama that, unsurprisingly, is in love with movies. His central character is a blind screenwriter, who was a film director before losing his sight. And Almodovar's plot is built around the production of a film in which the director has an affair with his leading lady, played by Penelope Cruz.
Yet Almodovar, who recently turned 60, claims that, while there are obvious visual and story elements that necessarily bring Alfred Hitchcock to mind, as well as a glimpse of a scene from Roberto Rossellini's Voyage to Italy, his film is more than simply a compendium of visual references to other movies.
"Of all my films, this is one that doesn't explicitly cite others, except for the Rossellini," he says. "The role film plays is always an active role, but it's not as an homage or citation of other films. There's something about citation that's very passive. Even with citations of Rossellini, which I do in this film, the references are quite active.
"The scene from Rossellini film provokes strong emotions in the characters. Yet it's a film very much embedded in cinema. The theme of the film was constructed after the fact. It's not until after the fact that I see the references to other films and authors."
The film marks Almodovar's fourth collaboration with Cruz, an Oscar-winner for Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona and nominee for Almodovar's Volver. The pair, at this point, have one of the great actor-director collaborations going today.
"Penelope demands a lot - and she has the right," Almodovar says. Continued...
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