Pedro Almodovar’s “Pain and Glory” is a self-portrait of rare precision and warm intimacy. It stars Antonio Banderas as Salvador Mallo, a famous aging filmmaker, hobbled by physical ailments, who lives in a Madrid apartment reproduced from Almodovar’s own, right down to the books on the shelves and the paintings on the walls.
“Pain and Glory” toggles between Mallo’s present and his childhood past (Penelope Cruz plays young Salvador’s mother) in a deeply personal drama that weaves together threads from throughout Almodovar’s life. It’s been hailed as a late masterpiece for the 69-year-old Spanish director and pegged as a possible frontrunner for Cannes’ Palme d’Or, to be presented Saturday.
In an interview on a rooftop bar in Cannes, Almodovar talked about memory, pain and his glorious new film.
Associated Press: “Pain and Glory” is full of the reflections of a filmmaker looking back on his life and work. Have you been feeling wistful?
Almodovar: It’s only with “Bad Education” that, at the age of 50, I looked back for the first time and I came up with these memories of my school years. I told the worst memory of my childhood. The best memory of my childhood was ‘Volver.’ This film is about other memories and my present time; the way I live and the way I work now. But I feel with these three films now, I’ve exhausted the memories of my own life. I’ve said enough. My next film, I have an idea. I’m not sure what it’s going to be. But I should put my life aside.
AP: Banderas’ character, Salvador, says he can’t live if he’s not filming. I imagine that’s true for you as well.
Almodovar: Yes, this is something that haunts me. I’m not Salvador. But the fear of not making another film is something I do experience. It’s not just related to the physical strength and preparation. Of course, it’s a very physical craft, shooting a film. At one point in my life, that’s what I was scared by. But there’s also the desire and the passion that you feel for a story before making a film out of it. I’m always scared to lose this passion. It’s exactly like when you’re in love with somebody and you’re scared of losing that feeling.
AP: Was that physical concern because of your back?
Almodovar: Yes, after the surgery of my back. The first movie afterward was ‘Julieta,’ and it was very important to do that. I was not sure that I was able to do it. I was never standing up more than a half an hour. Making ‘Julieta,’ I discovered the solution. The solution is always to make a new movie. When I’m shooting, I’m not conscious of pain.
AP: This is your sixth time in competition in Cannes but you’ve never won the Palme d’Or. What would one mean to you?
Almodovar: Of course, it would be wonderful if they gave it to me. But, also, it’s not a tragedy if they don’t. And it’s a big possibility. Even if my movie is received well in the Grand Palais, it doesn’t mean that the Palme d’Or is for you. Because that depends on nine people who are part of the jury. If it arrives, it will be very welcome. But if not, I’m old enough to keep on going without that.
AP: You’ve been a passionate advocate for the theatrical experience. Are you concerned about the future of the big screen?
Almodovar: Yes, I’m very concerned. I’m Spanish and I live in Spain. And every year in Spain, more than a hundred screens disappear. That’s a fact. And it’s also a fact that the Spanish people really don’t care about it. The audience likes the series, the (streaming) platforms and the possibility of watching something immediately. Fortunately, we have a different country in France. France is the greatest defender of the large screen, and I think it’s the French industry that’s going to deliver this battle against the streaming platforms.
AP: In Cannes, you’ve said you’re not against Netflix.
Almodovar: I’m not hostile to the platforms. I know they’re enriching fiction. They’re giving work to people all over the world. So their existence is a good thing. But what I wish as a viewer and as a director is to have coexistence of all these ways of connecting to films. We mustn’t forget that cinema was invented for the large screen. It was invented to be a communal experience in a theater, so this has to survive. As Susan Sontag wrote, to be kidnapped by a story, you have to be in a dark room, surrounded by strangers.
AP: “Pain and Glory” references not just your own films but many others, too. There’s a mention of “Splendor in the Grass.”
Almodovar: I mention it in the movie because I remember very well seeing it as a kid. Even though my life was very different the life of Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty and Barbara Loden, I felt very close to that. The movie talks about living in a small place, in a small community, where people can’t be free or express their feelings. I slept a lot with the character of Natalie Wood.
AP: Did completing this memory-based trilogy give you any feeling of catharsis?
Almodovar: At first I found it a bit scary. I felt vertigo for telling my own story like this. But once I got over this first impression, I just took the distance of any fiction and I went on writing like any other script. When I was shooting, I was just a director shooting a movie. I forgot completely that it was my house, my paintings and myself. At the end, when the movie was edited, I realized there was solace in making this film. I haven’t done any of my 21 films for therapeutic reasons. If you have a problem, making a film won’t solve it. But a film can be the best solution for your life, and that’s the case for this film in my life now.