His choice of meeting point - Madrid's Viridiana restaurant - is by no means coincidental. Luis Buñuel's 1961 film of the same name is cinematographer José Luis Alcaine's favorite. "This is absolutely Viridiana," Alcaine says as he points to the photographs of the film that hang on the walls of the premises. "The film was photographed well for its time, but I would have liked to have done it. What's more the food here is very good," he says after posing for photographs.
The 72-year-old Alcaine, who has made 125 films over his 46-year career, is currently working on Pedro Almodóvar's new film, La piel que habito (or, The Skin I Live In), due out in September. Beginning with Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown in 1988, the pair have made five movies together - the others are Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, Bad Education and Volver. He has a meeting with the Manchegan director after the interview, which is why he doesn't want to eat too much. "I look after myself well. If not, at my age, I wouldn't be able to handle a film shoot, with its long hours and tension and need to stay awake."
"The public is getting used to online grainy films with bad sound... it's terrible"
Born in Tétouan in 1938, Alcaine grew up in Tangier, before moving to Madrid in 1962 to study at Film School.
He remembers his photography teacher there "got it wrong" about him. "He told me that I wasn't suited to cinema," he says.
Indeed the teacher couldn't have been much more wrong. Since then Alcaine has gone on to work with not only Almodóvar, but also a veritable who's who of Spanish cinema, including Vicente Aranda, Víctor Erice, Fernando Colomo, Fernando Trueba, Montxo Armendariz, Carlos Saura and Bigas Luna. And only last week Alcaine was awarded the Ricardo Franco Prize at the Málaga Film Festival in recognition of a career that has earned him five Goya Awards and the National Cinema Prize in 1989. He was particularly thrilled because of the name attached to the Málaga prize - a "great Spanish director who disappeared prematurely" - though it did oblige him to take a look back over his life, something he doesn't like doing. "It's not worth the effort to look back, you have to do something new - confront new ideas."
His biggest present-day worry is the internet, and in particular "the fact that a section of the public is getting used to grainy films with bad sound... terrible."
But he talks about his new movie with Almodóvar with a lot of excitement. "It is a great film. I think it is going to be a surprise because it marks a switch in form and subject matter for Pedro... I am very happy." The movie, which also unites Almodóvar with Antonio Banderas for the first time in 20 years, is a horror-tinged tale about a plastic surgeon trying to create a new artificial skin that would have saved his dead wife.
"Elena Anaya is stunning in Pedro's new movie," says Alcaine, who is famed for the way he lights his female actresses. In Almodóvar's Volver he shot Pénelope Cruz "with that Sofia Loren style of the 1960s."
"The truth is [Elena] told me at the beginning, 'I was looking forward to working with you!' They know I take a lot of care. They deserve it. The public is always thankful when the stars look beautiful."
* Este artículo apareció en la edición impresa del Viernes, 8 de abril de 2011