A mischievous grin lights up the face of two-time Goya-winning actress Natalia de Molina when I ask her if she watched Josh Lawson’s directorial debut The Little Death. It’s not a randomly crowbarred-in Australian connection. She stars in one of five unusual sexual fantasy-inspired vignettes in Paco León’s Kiki, Love to Love (Kiki, el Amor se Hace), which opened this year’s Spanish Film Festival opener. The thing is, it’s loosely based on Lawson’s directorial feature debut.
Paco said to me, ‘don’t watch the film,’ but I’m a bad girl,” de Molina laughs raucously, speaking through a translator as we perch on a sofa in the bar of Melbourne’s Como Hotel. “I couldn’t control myself and I watched it. It was good, I really liked it, but what I love is that Paco managed to make the film his own. It has his signature.”
León, of course, is a SFF favourite, having delivered two raucously comedic tales based on his real-life mother Carmina Barrios, who also stars in Carmina or Blow Up (Carmina o Revienta) and Carmina y Amén. This time it’s his turn, appearing as one half of a couple in a sexual slump, alongside Ana Katz, who decided to spice things up by visiting a sex club and whilst there have their eyes open dot the endless possibilities.
But it’s de Molina who opens proceedings as Natalia (the characters mostly take the actors’ names) a woman who discovers her ‘harpaxophilia’ when she orgasms intensely while being robbed at knifepoint. Her confession to Alex Garcia, as Natalia’s hunky boyfriend, leads him to fake an elaborately staged attack to recreate events for her pleasure.
Shooting almost as if in a short film, León and Garcia helped Molina with the intimacy required and in finding the comedy at the heart of he edgy scenario. It was only in the final shooting week that they met the broader cast to film a fairground-set scene in which all the stories converge.
León embraces an improvisation approach that de Molina relished. “Paco is a different type of director, the most different I have ever worked with, and he really helps you play with your character and enjoy what they are doing in any given moment,” she says. “At first I was afraid I couldn’t get it, but as I got used to Paco’s ways and to her, it became easier and easier.”
Insisting that she tries to think about her Best Actress Goya for her turn as a struggling single mother in Juan Miguel del Castillo’s 2015 film Food and Shelter (Techo y Comida) for fear of getting a big head, despite being overjoyed and flatted by the recognition of her peers, de Molina says she still has so much to learn, and that was part of the reason she grappled with this unusually aroused role.
“I felt very lucky that I got this particular character with her craziness and this whole idea of sexual ‘phillias’ was kind of a discovery for me,” she says. “The Goya has certainly brought me more scripts, and that’s helped me discover that maybe I have my own ‘philia’, that I like to work on films that really make me uncomfortable and feel afraid I can’t do it, because I can learn from that and become stronger.”
With many critics comparing the tone of Kiki, Love to Love to early Pedro Almodóvar, the approach is certainly a good deal lighter than Lawson’s, the comedy more heightened and several of The Little Death’s more problematic plot points excised entirely (though one, involving unwitting drugging, remains).
De Molina gets the Almodóvar connection, adding that his Volver is her favourite Spanish film of all time. “The things that they have in common are their use of humour and they are both very feminine in their films,” she says. “They centre around the women and their world. They are movies about women’s sexuality, and this is even more taboo than sex itself.”
The latter sees her roll her eyes. As de Molina sees it, the message of León’s Kiki, Love to Love is clear, even if English-speaking audiences don’t pick up on the Spanish title’s colloquial reference to, as the translator elucidates, ‘shagging.’
“It’s a movie about communication between couples,” de Molina insists. “People must not be afraid of communicating and embracing those differences. Kiki’s is a really happy message of, ‘make love not war’.
“Every day we see people dying and horrible wars, but we become scandalised about people enjoying sex? It’s very important hat when people come out of this movie, they want to shag. This is why we are all here, because our parents really, really wanted to shag.”
Catch Kiki, Love to Love at the Spanish Film Festival, now underway around Australia
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Kiki, Love to Love
Wednesday 1 January, 12:10AM on SBS World Movies (now streaming at SBS On Demand)
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Director: Paco León
Starring: Belén Cuesta, Candela Peña, Natalia de Molina, Alexandra Jiménez, Paco León
What's it about?
In present day Madrid, against a scorching summer heatwave, five tales of love and lust unfold, in this Spanish remake of the 2014 Australian comedy The Little Death.