“In my career, in my life, in the life of every human being there is pain and there is glory,” says Pedro Almodovar, whose latest film, Pain and Glory, is his most personal to date.
“Glory in taking pleasure in what you do or just doing what you want with your life. Unfortunately, there are probably people for whom there is just pain and no glory. But in the world that surrounds us, I think there is some level of glory for any human being. And then pain, too, is also very well shared, whether it’s mental, moral, abstract, there are all kinds of pains in our lives and, unfortunately, life is imperfect. So, it’s normal that we have to undergo pain and glory.
“In my personal life, as a film director, I must say that, there’s been a lot of glory. There’s probably been more glory than pain because I have done the films that I have wanted to, and I’ve become a complete master of all my films. I think it’s very important, even when you make mistakes to be able to identify your mistakes, to know that you haven’t made them because of others but because of yourself, and to recognise yourself in it.”
In Pain & Glory, long-time Almodovar collaborator Antonio Banderas plays Salvador Mallo, a celebrated filmmaker in his mid-sixties who is assessing his life and career when a former collaborator returns to his life.
You don’t glamourise the drug taking in the film; the heroin that your character takes. Have you ever been curious to take recreational drugs, even for alleviating pain like him?
No. Never. When I was young, Spain changed completely when the dictatorship died. It was an explosion of freedom, and it was wonderful to be young, just to enjoy those years. I’m talking about the eighties. With that explosion, drugs were very included, the use of drugs and the abuse of drugs. For young people, it was a demonstration of freedom. We didn’t know what using a drug implied. And also, many of our heroes, like David Bowie, they were junkies and they were very beautiful, so we loved them.
Nobody told us about the dangers behind the drugs. But I was never attracted. I was surrounded by people doing heroin, but I was never attracted to that. Perhaps because I thought since the beginning that it was not the type of life for me, and also because I saw very soon the effects of heroin among my friends. I never felt any kind of attraction to that.
As a writer, in this case, thinking about pain, I thought that someone with pain could find a good solution, which is not a solution, just a bigger problem. It is part of the weakness to stop the pain, just to look for heroin.
Times have changed, of course, do you think that politics has something to do with that?
The entire world has changed a lot, for worse. I’m sad, but I don’t feel like making a parallel line between my movies and the life of our democracy. I don’t want to have this kind of responsibility of being the mirror of a situation that implicates the rest of my country. I prefer to implicate myself, my life.
The colours of this film are much darker than most of your filmography. Can you tell us why?
I would say that, for the character of Antonio, we can still feel that, in his memories and in his life, there has been a lot of colour. Now, it’s a more sombre period. It is true that the movies that I made with male main characters, they are much more sombre than the ones that I did with strong female characters. I don’t know why, but perhaps, because I’m male and there is always some part of myself reflecting in the story of the main characters. It’s true that the male characters that I have written are more fragile, they’re weaker than the female characters…
One of the funniest things in the film is the Q&A. Does this come from some sort of experience? Do you dread having to meet the public in that way? Or do you get energy from it at all?
To be honest, for myself, the Q&A is something I love. It’s always been wonderfully good because that’s what I enjoy most, being unseen, and then having open questions. People feel free to ask whatever they want. Even if some questions may seem irrelevant, I always find it interesting to try and answer.
And my point in this sequence was more the use of telephones, which is extremely kitsch, but extremely real nowadays. Especially, I had in mind some tacky programs on Spanish TV, on which they’re supposed to have a guest, and when they don’t have a guest but the person’s on the phone, they just put the phone to the last speaker and they pretend as if the phone was the person. That is in such bad taste that I had to use it for this sequence…
You have said that you don’t like yourself when you’re directing, so when do you like yourself?
I must say that I’m somebody who doesn’t look at himself in the mirror. I never look at myself. I never put on moisturizing cream, which I should do, because skin is very important. That’s our major organ. I made a movie about that, The Skin I Live In. I know many things about the skin.
But, that’s how it is. I don’t take care of myself. But the fact of liking myself: Maybe, the only time I can really like myself is very much linked to the process of creation. When you touch something very precise… something that you couldn’t predict, but then you have tried so hard, you’ve been so far that you end up touching something unexpected that just arrives, this is something that I can really enjoy, and I can enjoy being myself at this moment, having been able to touch this.
I need that part like a real addiction. It’s something that is a long process. It doesn’t mean that you are excited for the moment, and that you need a lot of patience … But for me, it works like an addiction. And in the case of the character, too, without doing a new movie, his life doesn’t have any meaning.
What part of the filmmaking process do you love the most?
There is a part when you’re in the writing, when things appear from the emptiness. The worst thing about writing is the discipline. You need to write a lot and you need to write every day.
I always part from reality at the beginning when I start writing, the first page, or the first two pages. If I’m interested enough, then it’s like a novel, you have two pages, but you have to keep writing to discover what happened. Even in this case, where it was about myself, I didn’t know what is going to happen. It’s like a big adventure. If I want to know what happens after these two pages that I like, I need to write them. This is really the stimulus that I’m looking for all the time. But, after that, and this is a big, big period, when you start shooting, everything changes because when you write, even about things that you know, the script is something abstract because in the script perhaps I don’t describe this kind of table, this kind of place, the flowers, the light, and the distance among the people. There are many things that they are not putting in the lines.
Then, like a thunderbolt, the reality of us shooting, in which everything is real, material, physical. The actor starts reading the part, there is a chemistry between the real actor and the part, and there is an interaction that you never thought about. And that changes the character. And you have to pay attention to all of that because everything is alive but, sometimes, not exactly in the same way that you dream of because the script, even the more realistic script, is always an abstraction.
That moment is fascinating too. John Ford describes very well what the work of a director is. He said that shooting is like being in one train. You can’t break. And the work of the director is to keep it on the rails.
This is exactly my feeling when I’m directing. But, at the same time, there is a sense of danger, ‘this movie’s going to be completely out of my control’. That feeling is there always. But, at the same time, what you discover is something fascinating because you are the first witness of something wonderful that is happening, and you are the first one to watch it, even before the camera, because, before you shoot that, you have rehearsed with the actors. And that is a magic moment. A moment that can be complicated because you have to fix up many things, but sometimes it’s a miracle that is happening in front of you. And I’m completely hooked to that.
Pain and Glory is in cinemas November 7, 2019