Pedro Almodóvar’s debut film may not be as polished as his later work, in fact it may be a bit messy and very rough around the edges but the trademark energy, wit, and charm are all here, and in abundance. Pepi (Maura), is listening to some music and playing with a sticker book when a policeman calls because he’s been noticing her funny looking plants. Fearing prosecution Pepi offers him other compensations, but the policeman takes things further than she was thinking, raping her and ‘stealing’ the virginity which she’d been planning to sell! Seeking revenge, Pepi enlists the help of her friends in a punk group, including Bom (Alaska), to beat him up, but it doesn’t quite go to plan. Later Pepi runs into the rapist policeman’s wife, Luci, (Silva) and convinces her to give her knitting lessons, where she finds out that Luci is a masochist upset that her husband treats her like his mother. These are our three crazy girls trying to make it in La Movida. The film is extremely funny, though dipping a little into poor taste at times which may spoil it a little for some. Even if it’s not an especially well made film, and its lack of budget and complicated production circumstances are very much in evidence it’s still a lot of fun and it’s very interesting for fans of Almodóvar’s more recent work to look at where it all started.
After the film the BFI brought out the actress and singer Alaska (Bom) to talk and answer a few questions about her work on this film. She began by commenting on the film’s genesis, that she was offered the part because she was friends with some artists that were also friends of Almodóvar’s and had read the script and recommended her. As there was no money at all to make the film filming would take place when enough money had been raised to buy the negative, consequently the film took a few years to actually complete filming here and there when possible. Other than Carmen Maura and Felix Rotaeta most of the cast were not professional actors but friends and other people from that particular underground scene at the time. Someone from the audience asked if she’d influenced her character seeing as there was a superficial similarity there with Alaska’s also being in a punk group, to which she replied no. She provided her own clothes/look etc seeing as there wasn’t a costume designer or stylist or even any money for costumes but the character was already 100% scripted before she got the part and Almodóvar was very strict about sticking to his script and did not allow any deviations from it whatever. However she did mention that the seen with the postman was originally intended to just be ‘hello’ but that the actor decided to go for it, much to the consternation of the producer because they only had the right amount of film for what was already planned out, but Almodóvar liked it so it worked out in that instance. A few questions also raised the question of how Alaska felt at the time regarding the changes in Spanish Society, whether she felt herself to be living in momentous times, she replied that being only fifteen or so at the time she just didn’t really react to it in that way. She felt sure that other people did, but being so young she was just really living her life. Someone then asked how she felt about Spanish society at the moment and she answered that she was old enough now to see that each generation criticises the next one for failing to react enough but perhaps it was just a case of times moving on and general apathy. Another questions asked if the film was representative of the youth of Spain during La Movida but she she pointed out that no, this was a definite minority subscene of people that were seen as ‘weird’ and that maybe the film was adopted by youth culture a bit later but at that moment didn’t really reflect it at the time of making. The question of reviews and reaction to the film was also brought up and it was pointed out that the film was more or less panned everywhere, there was not a good reaction anywhere. The film was screened at a couple of festivals where it received an adverse reaction particularly from feminist critics. One of the last questions asked for clarification on the film’s message and purpose, which in Alaska’s opinion (one that she was sure Almodóvar would share) were nil. She felt that if there was a message or purpose it was that there wasn’t one, and if anything simply a statement of intent – we are here and this is who we are, this is how we choose to live. What better message could there possibly be?