Almodovar 'emotionally naked' in new introspective film

Laurence BOUTREUX
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"I felt the need to provide a very introspective look, including into my darkest parts and to mix that with the brightest memories of my childhood," said Spanish film director Pedro Almodovar of his new movie "Pain and Glory" (Dolor y Gloria)

Spanish director Pedro Almodovar's new movie "Pain and Glory" about a melancholic filmmaker played by Antonio Banderas opened in cinemas across Spain on Friday, the most retrospective work in his 40-year career.

The Oscar-winning writer and director behind films such as "Women on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown" and "Julieta" had long vowed never to publish an autobiography, but he admits he is "emotionally naked" in his 21st film which deals with the themes of love, mourning and reconciliation.

"I felt the need to provide a very introspective look, including into my darkest parts and to mix that with the brightest memories of my childhood," the 69-year-old said during an interview with Spanish public television TVE on Wednesday.

The movie cuts back and forth in time as it follows the filmmaker in his twilight years reflecting on the choices he's made in life.

It features scenes of a young boy discovering he is gay in a rural and deeply Catholic Spain and of two mature men who kiss each other tenderly on the mouth.

"I am master of my stories and I impose my universe with all the pride and all the arrogance that this allows. And in my universe there are two older gentlemen who kiss with passion, and after one of them returns to his life with his wife and children," Almodovar told online Spanish newspaper eldiario.es.

- 'My Mastroianni' -

The movie stars longtime Almodovar favourite Penelope Cruz who plays the main character's young mother, a woman engulfed in sadness who lights up and sings while washing clothes in a river.

Spanish actress Julieta Serrano, who appeared in his first feature film, the 1980 camp comedy "Pepi, Luci, Bom", depicts the mother when she is elderly.

"I don't want you to put anything about me in your films," Serrano's character says at one point.

Almodovar picked Banderas, 58, who rose to Hollywood stardom after starring in his movies, to play his double.

The actor sports Almodovar's trademark spiky white hair and bright clothes but does not imitate the director's mannerisms.

"It took me time to understand that Antonio was my most legitimate Mastroianni," Almodovar told daily El Mundo in a reference to the role of a depressed film director played by Marcello Mastroianni in Italian director Federico Fellini's "8½", which won the best foreign language film Oscar in 1963.

Almodovar first cast Banderas in his 1982 film "Labyrinth of Passion". He went on to give him leading roles in six other movies.

- 'Most sincere' movie -

While reviews in Spain for Almodovar's recent movies have been mixed, this time around critics have been mostly positive about "Pain and Glory" (Dolor y Gloria).

Spanish daily El Mundo said the film "achieves a level of perfection which is difficult to surpass", while online newspaper El Espanol called it Almodovar's "most sincere" movie.

Almodovar has stressed in several media interviews ahead of the film's release that it contains many fictional moments which bear no resemblance to his own history.

For example, the director in the movie falls in love with a builder as a nine-year-old boy. Almodovar says this never happened to him, though he admits it could have.

In the movie the director becomes hooked on heroin. Almodovar said he never touched the drug, preferring instead cocaine in his younger days.

The film features a cameo appearance by Latin Grammy winner Rosalia, 25, who is being praised globally for her groundbreaking fusion of flamenco with urban and electronic music.

Almodovar has won two Oscars -- for best foreign language film in 2000 with "All About My Mother" and for best original screenplay in 2003 with "Talk to Her".