CAIRO – 11 November 2019: If you were free, bold and honest enough to come to public and tell a story, your own story of deep grief and pain, maybe this purifying act be your one and only salvation to get yourself back together again.
In "Pain and Glory," the Spanish Oscar Award winner, director Pedro Almodóvar, tells a story which could be about his own life, or about any human’s unplanned suffering and redemption.
The 112-minute movie raises a lot of questions since its first scene, when Salvador Mallo (played by Antonio Banderas) sits still under the water for a few seconds, while the camera is moving slowly showing his scar from a surgery.
You don’t know at this moment what this surgery is, but as the events escalate, you realize that this scar is not just on the outer layer of his skin, but is rotted deeply inside his soul and embodies a lot of memories and ghosts from the past.
When Mallo goes to the surface to inhale his first breath, the movie flashes back to his first memory of his mother with her friends and neighbors washing their clothes and singing when Mallo or Almodóvar was just a 10-year old boy.
“When Antonio was under the water, it was the only moment when he doesn’t have any pain,” Almodóvar said during an interview for Channel 4 News earlier in September.
He said that for a long time of his life, he didn’t realize that his mother had all this effect on his life, adding that later he realized that she and her neighbors were the source of all strong women he created in his films later.
Everyone, even Almodóvar, eventually said its Almodóvar's own story. All the circulated questions were; is Almodóvar a heroin addict, when did he discovere his own sexuality, was he really a teacher at that age in his village, and was his childhood that poor that he lived in a cave?
Well, all of these thoughts could be described in the movie as ghosts and memories mixed with fiction as "Pain and Glory" is not a documentary. Almodóvar released his own ghosts so he can continue to write, live and film once again. Maybe that movie was his salvation.
The movie talks about the director's early childhood, from when he was 10 years old and follows him into the seventies and eighties. A depressed, blocked film writer and director, he finds himself unable to write or face the audience as he struggles with back pain, heroin and ghosts from the past, including his mother, old love and friendships.
As I was watching the movie, I kept asking myself: Where is the peak moment of the story? But I didn’t find any. The movie is made of memories and memories have no peak.
“Love is not enough to save the person you love,” Asier Etxeandia, who played Alberto Crespo in "Pain and Glory", said in the movie as he was telling the touching story of ‘Madrid was ours’, which highlights Almodóvar’s sexuality.
“I did it because it’s true, and it was part of my real life… I used my power as a director to impose it as part of reality, saying that life is also like this, the real life,” Almodóvar said in statements.
Many things about this movie are beyond mesmerizing. Besides the honesty and boldness in telling the story, Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz were at their best, playing Almodóvar and his mother.
Almodóvar cooperated with Banderas in 2011’s "The Skin I Live In" and with Cruz in 2006’s "Volver" and those three coming together has just made the film spectacular. A thing that you can not ignore is that none of the actors from the amazing staff, which also included Leonardo Sbaraglia, Asier Etxeandia and Nora Navas, went off the movie beat and harmony.
Banderas' performance, which got him the Cannes Best Actor Award, seems promising with more awards to come. The movie's sound track by Alberto Iglesias, which won the Best Soundtrack Award at the 72nd Festival de Cannes, was a special signature for the movie.
Finally, how far did this story represent Almodóvar's life? well, a lot.
In a movie discussion held in Cairo and attended by Nora Navas on the sidelines of Panorama of the European Film on Friday, November 8, Navas talked about the movie and that it was her first cooperation with Almodóvar. She described him as a difficult director to work with.
“The movie is a far special one, because it represents part of his personal life... My role in the movie – which was Almodóvar’s assistant- was really different from real life, and his bond with his mother in the movie was not really that much real either,” Navas said
She added that things happening in Almodóvar’s life resulted in that film, including his back pain, and his mother’s recent death.
Part of Nora Navas discussion for Pain and Glory movie on the sideline of Cairo’s Panorama of the European Film – Photo by Aya Samir for Egypt Today
In his statements to Channel 4 News, Almodóvar said that it was true that people used to travel and immigrate when he was young, searching for a better life and that drugs were everywhere during the 80’s in Spain, and that his mother enrolled him in Seminary, where he got promoted to be a teacher for big boys as most of the men in the village they lived in were illiterate.
However, they didn’t live in a cave, as the movie showed. The movie was a journey, a real and honest journey, where the hero was swallowed by depression, emptiness and grief, but finally found his way back through writing and filming.
"For me, cinema is a way to live. I can’t imagine my life without writing and shooting stories," Almodóvar said in statements.