Pedro Almodóvar • Director of Pain & Glory
"I study each and every detail with a magnifying glass"
by Fabien Lemercier
- CANNES 2019: Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar spoke to the international press about his new film, Pain & Glory, in competition at Cannes
Surrounded by his team, Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar spoke to the international press about his new film, the magnificent Pain & Glory [+see also:
interview: Antonio Banderas
Q&A: Pedro Almodóvar
film profile], in competition at the 72nd Cannes Film Festival.
How did you approach the boundaries between fiction and reality in your life in making this film?
Pedro Almodóvar: This film isn’t a literal story of my life, but everything that happens to the main character could have happened to me, and some of these things did actually happen to me. But most of them are fictional. When I start to write a screenplay, the first scenes do have some connection to my life. But then fiction comes into play, and when we write, we have to be true to fiction, not to reality. Cinematographic fiction has to be realistic, even if it takes us away from reality. One of the things in the film that did actually take place in real life was the fact that I had a relationship which came to an end even though our love was still very much alive. But circumstances forced me to separate from this person, and it’s an incredibly painful thing because it’s not natural. This relationship which was still very much alive and which I had to cut off from - it was like cutting off an arm. This experience, which many people have no doubt lived through, I also went through. But there was no reconciliation in our case, unlike what happens in the film.
And in terms of the childhood of the main character…?
I never lived in a cave, but I could have. Either way, I know what it’s like to have a precarious childhood, as my family had to emigrate to another region in 1960. But just like the child in the film, I saw all that through the eyes of a young nine-year-old boy. We lived in a street where the pavements were all broken apart but, for me, it was like living in a Western. With my child’s eyes, I didn’t register the awful precariousness that Spain was living through. I was already collecting film images and living a parallel life that was far better than reality.
At one point in the film, the director’s mother says that she hates autofiction.
When we talk about ourselves, we’re talking about other people; about times we’ve shared with other people. It’s a very delicate subject because we have the right to talk about ourselves and our lives, but the thought that I might affect other people in doing so really frightens me. So, I’m very careful and I study each and every detail with a magnifying glass. What is true is that all the film’s themes are important to me: family, our mothers, work, creativity, childhood, etc. It’s a good representation of me and shows how I feel about these themes. I can’t give you any ratios or tell you the percentage of reality and of fiction; what counts is the mix of the two. For example, there is one very important, improvised scene - as it was written the night before - where the mother says to her son: "you haven’t been a good son". It’s a brutal line. In the following scene, on the terrace, the son apologises for not being the son that she would have wanted, and, in response, there is only a cruel silence. This scene didn’t take place in my own life: I never had a conversation like that with my mother. But sometimes, through fiction, we discover certain things about ourselves, because this scene, which I never directly experienced myself, does represent something very important in my life: the way people looked at me when I was a child, as if I was strange. What I’m conveying in this scene is what I saw in the eyes of others in the village, but also at school, at boarding school, in the eyes of other children. When you’re a child, this type of rejection is humiliating and is very hard to process; just as hard as when a mother tells her son that he hasn’t been a good son.
The film is called Pain & Glory, but it speaks mostly of pain - human pain generally speaking, but also the pain of creation - and not that much of glory. For a somewhat tormented artist like the one in the film, is glory a hindrance or a driving force?
It can be both. In the film, the glory of the character is represented by the place where he lives, which tells us that he has led a far more dazzling life than the one he is currently living. Despite all his suffering, he has a very lovely apartment and lives in this magnificent place, surrounded by splendid works of art. I wanted to put this character’s pain in perspective, especially in comparison with the pain experienced by others, who have fewer options to help withstand it. As the doctor says to the main character, "there are people who are doing far worse than you are and who take priority."
What about addiction?
The great addiction of Antonio Banderas’ character is the despair he feels upon the realisation that it’s physically impossible for him to make any more films. My biggest addiction today is film, both as a viewer and a storyteller.
(Translated from French)
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.