Many famous directors retreat to the privacy of their own screening rooms, but Pedro Almodóvar still likes to see movies in theatres. He lives off a park on the western side of Madrid, and the art houses are clumped together near Plaza de España, not far away. He tries to go at least once a week. If a studio sends him a screener on DVD and he likes the movie, he will watch it a second time in a cinema.
One day in September, his driver dropped him off near the Cine Renoir, which was showing “Neruda,” a film about the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda directed by Pablo Larraín. As Almodóvar walked toward the theatre, carrying a Prada bag that held a bottle of water, locals recognized him. Spain is passionate about its movies, and Almodóvar, who just turned sixty-seven, is the country’s most famous director since Luis Buñuel. Stout and pale, he stands out among the Madrileños, with wide dark glasses—he suffers from light sensitivity—and a tuft of white hair that a bird appears to have woven on the top of his head.
The Cine Renoir, despite its elegant name, is a small space on the ground floor of an unappealing building—a bomb shelter that shows films. A woman in her twenties asked if she could take a photograph with Almodóvar. Many of his fans are no longer so young. A woman in her sixties praised “Julieta,” his melancholy new film, which is about a mother whose teen-age daughter abandons her. “It made me cry,” she said. “I shuddered.”
“Bueno,” Almodóvar answered, smiling. “Muchas gracias. Bueno.”
Almodóvar, who was a bold showman when he was younger, now carries himself in public at once tentatively and grandly. He clearly enjoys walking unimpeded through the city, but the cinema visits are telling—if you don’t want adulation, why go where you’ll certainly be recognized? He told me, in Spanish, that the advent of the selfie was a relief: “While you gave them an autograph, the other person tended to tell their whole life story.” Some of the fans at the Cine Renoir lingered anyway. Almodóvar’s movies—abiding closeups, conversations full of confidences—make people think he must be a good listener. Another older woman spotted him from inside the theatre and came out. “Wow,” she said. “Congratulations on ‘Julieta.’ I’ve seen all your movies!” Almodóvar seemed relieved to get into the dark. He sat down, folded a light jacket across his lap, and settled in.