Almodóvar’s Oscar-nominated ‘Pain and Glory’ looks a lot like autobiography, but then, so does ‘Bad Education’

Posted on January 16, 2020


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In the face of the Parasite juggernaut, no one, realistically, gives Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory a chance at winning the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award. But I’m glad it’s up there in the list, and I’m glad Antonio Banderas has also been nominated for his exquisite performance as… Pedro Almodóvar. The character, a gay filmmaker named Salvador Mallo, looks like Almodóvar, with those clothes and those distinctive spikes of hair. Architectural Digest reported that Salvador’s apartment was modelled after Almodóvar’s own, “including details such as how light enters during particular moments in the day.” Almodóvar donated his own art and furniture to make this set, and also lent his shoes and clothes for Banderas to wear.

Autobiography, right? Almodóvar said… not exactly. He calls the film a work of fiction, and yet, he confessed in The Guardian: “I’m trying to convince myself I’m talking about a character. But deep down I know I’m talking about myself.” But it doesn’t matter. One doesn’t need these anecdotal details to make the case that Pain and Glory is a deeply personal work. In its flashbacks to early awakenings of sexuality, in its confessional story within a story, and in its “one that got away” friendship, it harks back to Law of Desire (1987) and Bad Education (2004) – and isn’t revisiting themes and images also a form of autobiography? If not personal autobiography, it’s perhaps a professional kind.

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