The profile of desire
by Vitor Pinto
11/04/2006 - In 1985, after completing Matador, Pedro Almodóvar was eager to experience more creative freedom and the opening of his own production outfit was an inevitable step in affirming himself as a distinct voice in Spanish film. Run by his brother Agustín, known as the guardian of Pedro's audacity and talent (see interview), El Deseo progressively improved its position among the most successful production companies at home, simultaneously broadening its horizons towards France, Latin America and Canada.
Released in February 1987, The Law of Desire was seen by nearly 800,000 filmgoers and grossed €1.45 at the local box office. This mix of "film noir" and tribute to Francophone culture (from Cocteau's “La Voix Humaine” to Jacques Brel's "Ne me quitte pas") is the first of 11 Almodóvar films produced so far by El Deseo. Other acclaimed titles from its catalogue include the Oscar nominated Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988) and Oscar winners All About My Mother (1999) and Talk To Her [trailer] (2002).
In the1990s, French company Ciby 2000 became a privileged partner on Almodóvar's films (High Heels, Kika, The Flower of My Secret, Live Flesh), and El Deseo reciprocally became involved in projects by French directors: Patrick Grandperret's Le maître des elephants (1995), Gérad Junot's Fallait pas (1996) and Messieurs Enfants (1997) by Pierre Boutron. They furthermore co-produced Alain Guesnier's Le serpent a mange la grenouille (1998) with France's Hachette Première et Cie and Luxembourg's Samsa Film, but the film, which opened in July 2000, was far from being a box office hit (812 admissions and €3,794 grossed).
Emerging Spanish and South American directing talents were also part of El Deseo's growing strategy and, unlike its French experiences, the Hispanic productions from the company's slate seem to be an open investment in auteur cinema. El Deseo was behind Álex de la Iglesia's directorial debut Mutant Action and Guillermo del Toro's 2001 title The Devil's Backbone, which was seen by over 700,000 cinemagoers and grossed approximately €3m. More recently, El Deseo co-produced Loco Fever by Chilean-born Andrés Wood and La Niña Santa by Cannes-acclaimed Argentinean newcomer Lucrecia Martel.
Nearly 30 titles, often highly praised by critics and audiences throughout the past 21 years, have given El Deseo a unique status within the local film industry. Since 2001, the company has managed to stay among Spain’s 20 most successful film enterprises. According to figures recently published on the ICAA website, between January 1 and March 31 2006, El Deseo was second in the ranking of production companies with the best box office results. This position was consolidated through two theatrical releases: Almodóvar's latest comedy Volver [trailer, film focus] (see Focus) and The Secret Life of Words [trailer, film focus].
Released domestically in October 2005, The Secret Life of Words is the second film by Catalan director Isabel Coixet to be produced by El Deseo, following her 2003 Spanish/Canadian title My Life Without Me [trailer] (526,364 admissions, €2.6m grossed). It has so far been seen by nearly 600,000 filmgoers and grossed €3.2m, making Coixet’s films the most successful titles from the El Deseo catalogue after Almodóvar's films. Her films – melodramatic stories accompanied by good performances from an international cast – seem to be the new recipe for success and Words has been praised by audiences as well as recognized by the industry, and last January won four Goya Awards (Best Film, Best Director, Best Original Script and Best Production).