Has there been another giant of a moviemaker in Spain like Pedro Almodovar? I wonder. Nothing, therefore, could have been more befitting than the Venice Film Festival honouring him with a Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement. He received it the other day, and in an emotional speech he said many things that moved many in the audience. What he said sounded like a poignant story, only that he was not making it all up. He hardly does this even in the cinema he creates. A lot of it is true, inspired by his lifetime of experiences.
"The first time, I left Spain as a filmmaker," he said, "was to come to the Venice Film Festival in 1983 with Dark Habits. Like every first time, my memories of it are fantastic. Venice was my baptism as an international moviemaker. Enzo Ungari, who was a member of the film selection committee, discovered me, and for this I will always be grateful to him and to the Festival."
"I feel very much at home in Italy and with Italians; we have a similar sense of humour, similar flaws, our languages and our cultures resemble one another and we all love and defend auteur moviemaking. To be here now is like being at home. I am immensely grateful for this unexpected Golden Lion that admits me into a group which, with no false modesty, I am not certain I deserve to be part of: Buñuel, Antonioni, Kieslowski, Pontecorvo, Rossellini, Dreyer and the list could go on."
"I would equally like to thank Italian cinema and Italian music for the continuing inspiration they have provided for my life and my work. My childhood and adolescence were shaped by Italian music and among all the film genres that have influenced me, I would like to underscore Italian Neorealism in particular, which I believe to be the only narrative style that continues to be relevant today, with no need to be updated, unlike all other movie genres.
"I am a director by vocation; when I was very small, I decided that my reason to be in the world was to enthrall people, to tell stories. Cinema has been my life and I cannot conceive of spending the rest of the time that remains to me without making films. Pain and Glory addresses, among other themes, this vital need.
"My movies were conceived at a unique time in Spanish history. I refer to the democracy that arose after Franco's dictatorship. It would not have been impossible to make them before. My cinema is the product of Spanish democracy, the demonstration that this burgeoning democracy was real."
Almodovar added, "I have never striven to change the world (I have never been that presumptuous), but I have tried, I admit, to explain my own, little world I have lived in, and I have always done so with absolute freedom, independence and innocence. In my world people suffer, but they also rejoice without prejudice, they are passionate, diverse, flawed and generous, with an immense capacity for survival, yet fragile and vulnerable, all of them endowed with great moral autonomy."
His latest outing, a Cannes premiere, Pain and Glory, expressed this most convincingly. Highly personal and in all probability Almodovar's own story, the movie was – clearly - from a man who was ageing and had almost thought that he would not be able to work anymore.
This is, of course, not to say that Pain and Glory is his best work. It lacks both the mad energy of his early counter-cultural work and the ravishing melodramatic pleasures of the critical darlings from his prestige period (including All About My Mother, which was heavily favoured to win at Cannes in 1999 but did not).
While his previous work, Julieta, talks about a middle-aged woman who goes back to her old flat in Madrid to pen her thoughts on what she feels is a life gone back, Pain and Glory also exudes a similar sense of bitter-sweet nostalgia. Antonio Banderas plays a cinema director who is stuck in a groove and struggling to get ahead. There is a clear mix of fact and fiction here. A lot of what we see in Pain and Glory reflects Almodovar's own anxieties and predicament.
The question now is, will Pedro make another movie, and how soon would that be?
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is an author, commentator and movie critic)