The bad education I received at school was rectified when I went to the cinema. My religion became the cinema. Of course one could create one’s own belief system, and anything that helps or supports you in life can be seen as covering the function of religion. In that sense you could consider cinema my religion, because it is one of my major stimuli that I have for living. Cinema has that aspect of devotion to saints and idolatry as well. In that sense it is entirely religious.
Almodóvar’s thoughts on cinema and religion are presented as an autobiographical account which can be vividly discerned in his 2004 film Bad Education. In this movie, two boys, who are homosexuals, as Almodóvar himself, go to the cinema and enjoy a place which is separated from the corrupt world of a religious school in Franco-era Spain. They see, as the director himself, cinema as a place of refuge, a sanctuary where they can experience emotions authentically, far beyond the grasp of a disciplinary institution, governed by priests. It is ironic that a place which is of secular nature is called a sanctuary of a kind, while the actual religious institution is associated with oppression and corruption. Churches, of course, can also be seen as sanctuaries, places of quiescent contemplation, separated from the corrupt world of modernity.
The other religious aspect of cinema which Almodóvar emphasizes is its power of healing, its therapeutic power. Cinema can be a support through the mechanism of identification with the protagonist, through acknowledgment of sufferings of the other: it can reduce our obsession with ourselves (and our own suffering), a phenomenon which the essayist Emile Cioran sees as particularly common in modern times. Jacques Lacan questioned the Aristotelian notion of catharsis, the purgation of emotions through drama, since the chorus in Greek tragedies does all the weeping and we watch the play rather disinterestedly.
An analogy can be drawn between watching a film at the theatre and hearing the collective weeping during a particularly emotional scene. Someone, in fact, the collective, does the weeping for us. Nevertheless, the notion of catharsis cannot be fully dismissed, since the pity we feel for the characters is indeed purfifying (watching Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark for example). Watching a film in the theatre can be seen akin to a religious experience since it is a congregation which appears in that very theatre and drama is collectively experienced. Instead of chanting and praying, there is laughter and tears.
To conclude, cinema does not only have its saints, the directors who belong to the pantheon of cinema, e.g. Jean Renoir, Orson Welles, Ingmar Bergman, Stanley Kubrick and so on, but also has its angels; at the end of Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire we can see his dedication to the angels of cinema, Andrei [Tarkovsky], François [Truffaut] and Yasujirō [Ozu].