Pedro Almodóvar: 'I could say 20% of what you see is a direct projection of my personal memories'

Pedro Almodóvar: 'I could say 20% of what you see is a direct projection of my personal memories'

Movie maestro discusses his latest film, Pain and Glory, in which a filmmaker looks back over his life

'I think in the life of every human being there is pain and there is glory,' pronounces Pedro Almodóvar, with gnomic wisdom. Certainly the Spaniard, dressed today in a bright yellow shirt, knows more than most about glory. For the past 40 years, he's been his nation's most revered director, with movies like Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Talk to Her and Volver. Put simply, 'I have done the films that I've wanted.'

Yet as he approaches his 70th birthday next month, he has known pain too – at least of the physical kind. Over the years, he's suffered from chronic back problems, tinnitus and sensitivity to light. And so we come to the twenty-first film of his career, a semi-autobiographical drama called – you guessed it – Pain and Glory. 'I started writing about my back pains, so that was the first impulse,' he explains. From here, protagonist Salvador Mallo, an ageing, ailing film director in a creative slump, began to take shape. 'It came very naturally.'

While Almodóvar is no stranger to auto-fiction – this is the man, after all, who made 1999's sublime All About My MotherPain and Glory is arguably the closest he's come to holding up a mirror to himself. 'It's me but it's also fiction,' he counters. 'I haven't been necessarily in the same direction as he has, and I haven't done what he's done. But it could have happened to me. I could say 20% of what you see is a direct projection of my personal memories.'

Whatever the truth, Pain and Glory gave Almodóvar the chance to reunite with Antonio Banderas, who plays Mallo. Regular collaborators in the 80s, in early Almodóvar films like Law of Desire and Matador, they last worked together on 2011's The Skin I Live In. But this was always going to be unique. 'I was conscious that what I wanted from him was something completely different from what we did in the past, or even the movies he did in America.'

Almodóvar calls it 'a very original performance from Antonio', something the jury at this year's Cannes Film Festival agreed with, with Banderas awarded the prize for Best Actor. Certainly, it's a career high for the star, deftly blending humour and pathos into a character that, after seeing one of his films restored for a retrospective, begins to reflect back on his past – friends, lovers and his mother, played in flashback by another long-term collaborator, Penélope Cruz.

Intriguingly, Mallo even starts to try heroin, though it's not something Almodóvar has ever experienced, even as a pain reliever. 'Since the beginning, I thought that it was not the type of drug for me, for my character,' he says. 'Also, I saw very soon the effects of heroin among my friends.' But there's another drug in Mallo's life. 'The real dependency is the cinema,' says Almodóvar. Movies can save lives, it seems. 'It is true in my case,' he adds, 'and it's true in the case of the character.'

General release from Fri 23 Aug.

Pain and Glory

  • 3 stars
  • 2019
  • Spain
  • 1h 53min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Pedro Almodovar
  • Cast: Antonio Banderas, Penelope Cruz, Leonardo Sbaraglia

Retired director Salvador (Banderas) reflects on his life while one of his older movies is being restored. This is Almodóvar on subdued, melancholic form, and while the film’s standoffish tone prevents us from feeling fully involved, the director’s sense of cinema remains undiminished.