Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar made his return at Cannes this year with Pain & Glory, a deeply personal and semi-autobiographical film about an aging filmmaker reflecting on his life and legacy and dealing with the loss of his youth.
The movie stars frequent Almodóvar collaborator Antonio Banderas as Spanish director Salvador Mallo. As the character reflects on his youth, and suffers through crippling back pain, he rekindles a friendship with a volatile actor from his past and reconnects with a lost love.
“It’s always very mysterious when you start writing,” Almodóvar told me last month. “Usually the first pages are not the movie that results. They will become a script, and after that a movie, but I would be writing every day about anything; sometimes short tales, sometimes just ideas.”
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In fact, for Pain & Glory, Almodóvar began with the scene that now opens the film, as Mallo floats underwater to relieve the pain he’s feeling. “They were the only moments where I didn’t have any kind of muscular tension,” Almodóvar said, describing his own back pain that became transcribed onto the character he created. “So, I started there, writing about the situation of feeling like a ghost inside the water, alone with yourself, your mind and your memory. What immediately came to me was another stream of water: the river of my childhood, when I went with my mother and our neighbors while they washed clothes. They sang, they talked. I was maybe 3 or 4, and it was the beginning of storytelling for me, because they told stories to one another and talked about the things that were happening in the rural place we were living in.”
Almodóvar is quick to point out, though, that the film is not entirely autobiographical. In Pain & Glory, Mallo turns to heroin to dull the pain, something Almodóvar never did.
And, says Banderas, the fractious relationship Mallo shares with an old actor collaborator is not based on his own with Almodóvar, even though they had rocky times along the way. “I think Alberto, in a way, is a Frankenstein made of many of the characters of the actors, and also the actresses too, he has known along the way,” Banderas said. “What caught my attention at the beginning was of course the story, but it was also the form. I found it a very simple story in the way he was telling it. It was very austere. It was outside of the normal baroque Almodóvar that I know. There was something very honest that ran through the whole script. It sounded almost like a confession to me in the beginning, even if it’s not a confession. It had a feeling of something that had been written in a monastery. It’s almost like if Pedro went to that kind of state in which the movie starts, in the water, and he wrote it from there.”
Click here to read the script.