Cannes Film Fest 2019: Pain and Glory–Interview with Almodovar and Stars Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz

Almodovar’s 21st feature, Pain and Glory, is his sixth film in competition at the 2019 Cannes Film Fest.  He had previously won the Best Director Award at Cannes for All About My Mother, in 1999, but he has not earned yet the top prize, the Palme d’Or.

As of Day 7 of the world’s most prestigious film event, Pain and Glory is one of the most critically acclaimed pictures at the festival.

It’s also his most personal and authentic work, in which the director exposes himself–fears, nightmares, anxieties, pains, trepidations–like in no other film before.  The work also examines the subjects of addiction, both to illegal and prescription drugs, and at artistic creation.

Part fictionalized, part factual, Pain and Glory offers a personal chronicle of Almodóvar’s troubled private life, detailing a reunion with a lost love after several decades. 

The movie is personal in other ways: It reunites Almodovar with two of his most frequent collaborator-actors: Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz.

Banderas, who was crucial to the director’s work in the first two decades (the 1980s and early 1990s), plays his alter-ego in the film, a director named Salvador Mallo.  Cast as his onscreen mother, Cruz has appeared in half a dozen of his movies, including the 2006 Volver, for which she received her first (and only) Best Actress Oscar nomination; she won the Supporting Actress Oscar for Woody Allen’s comedy in 2009.

Reunion with Favorite Stars:

Almodovar: Antonio (Banderas) said yes right away.  He knew a lot of the stuff of my life first-hand.  His performance is magnificent and I’m very grateful.  and Penelope (Cruz) was a natural choice to play the mother. I have always seen Penelope as somebody with maternal instincts.

Autobiographical Film:

Almodovar: “All my films talk about me, but id never made on with a main character that is a film director and that has some of my health conditions. It’s a film that I needed to make.”

Film as Therapy:

Almodovar: “I wouldn’t like to describe the experience as therapy, but after completing the film, I felt a soothing effect. Like the character, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make another film because of health issues.


Almodovar: “I was also worried  that I won’t be able to reach the same degree of passion to tell stories that I used to have. making pain and glory helped getting rid of that insecurity.”

One of the most emotionally touching scenes ends with a kiss between Banderas’s character and his former boyfriend (played by Leonardo Sbaraglia).  This plot line drew on a true personal story, and it was a rare thing to see on screen.

Almodovar: “I have never dared to kiss anyone in such an intimate way.  Two 50-year-old men kissing with so much passion and excitement on screen is not often seen.”

Spanish-born Banderas, who has mostly made English-speaking films in Hollywood over the past two decades, said that, after serious heart problems, making Pain and Glory had helped him to reassess his acting and his personal life.

Banderas: “I had to ‘kill’ my former self to play the role of an aging director modeled on Almodovar.  To create this character I had to kill Antonio Banderas. There was something in me that I could definitely not use for this role.”

Happy Experience

Banderas: “Despite this, the experience of making the film had been the happiest in my career.  This is something that no one can take away from me. Pedro wanted me to show something new in the character. Maybe become a new Antonio Banderas.

Limits of Exposure:

“I did experience a love that was aborted, that was broken. When you have to separate from someone you still love you have to set yourself free as if you were cutting off your arm. I have not had the reconciliation you see in the film.”

Cruz’s screen role is inspired by Almodóvar’s mother, who at one point in the story, when she’s frail, tells her son she does not like how he makes films about his life using the genre term “autofiction.”

Cruz: Although I was familiar with working on his films, I was fearful of asking him questions because he had given his own guts to the script.

Making TV Series:

Almodovar: I don’t rule it out, but I’m not sure I can deal with some of the rules of the format, like having same-length episodes. If I decide to do TV, the solution might be to adapt a book of short stories, like the one by a female writer that we recently bought the rights to.  This way we can adapt the length of the episode to the length of the original story.

Directing English-Speaking Films:

Almodovar: I’m terrified by the idea, but I’m getting closer to it.  Julieta (his previous film) was meant to be in English, and I had talked with  Meryl Streep, who was on board. But I got restless at the last minute, and decided to shoot it in Spain and in Spanish.