“Pain and Glory” is a sharp and witty self-examination of Pedro Almodóvar’s life, told through Antonio Banderas’s award-winning performance. The fabric of the film is expressed through the bright cinematography and colorful music transporting you to Spain and beyond. “Pain and Glory” is Highly Recommended.
As I watched Pedro Almodóvar’s “Pain and Glory” unfold, several thoughts crossed my mind.
The first is the recognition that I have deprived myself of his library of films. In fact, immediately after my screening was done, I went out to Amazon Prime to look to see which of his other films was available.
With “Pain and Glory,” there is a vibrancy about the film, not only in the look and feel, but in the characters as well; a richness as Almodóvar invites us into his own life. Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas, who was a regular fixture in Almodóvar’s films) is a director who seems to be at the end of his rope. He knows that there is still more energy to create, but the physical and mental pain he presents to us inhibits his ability to move forward.
Salvador’s story begins with the opportunity to honor his own legacy as he is asked to tour “Sabor” (“Flavor”) a film 30 years in his past. The opportunity to revisit “Sabor” is an opportunity to reconcile with Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia), the lead actor from that film 30 years after their falling out.
Almodóvar’s introduction of Alberto is subtle; the characters have a shared past, but there is also a tension between them, a result of a falling out after the initial release of “Sabor.” There is a passion between the two that goes well beyond a director and his lead performer’s creativeness and creative differences; the subtlety is also a cover for an intimacy between the two characters, as if they were once lovers.
The second thought that occurred to me is that Almodóvar is being reflective and reflexive about himself, reminiscing about the creative failures and the failed romances that have led him to this current dry spell. He exists, but he does not really live.
These early scenes are subliminally explicit as Almodóvar uses Alberto to introduce Salvador to heroin. Salvador controls much of his pain through a cocktail of prescription drugs, but his dry spell is also connected to the fact that his body and his spirit have taken as much abuse as they’re going to, something that causes conflict between Salvador and Alberto once again.
The smoked heroin that Salvador takes is akin to peyote with a ceremonial feel, connecting him to his inner self, allowing Salvador to reminisce about the one fixture in his life that he cannot get past – his mom, Jacinta (Penélope Cruz). Almodóvar revisits the character’s childhood during the adolescent Salvador’s acid trips. It is here where we learn about Salvador’s creative tendencies, but we also learn of his parent’s hardships, a heavy influence on young Salvador.
Almodóvar flirts between the modern world and the past using the acid trips, which are edited in a way where the clarity of the story sometimes comes into question, but is never a distraction.
Color is an important aspect to this story; from Salvador’s childhood seaside, white – washed cave home to his modern flat, full of art pieces, each compares and contrasts the points at which Almodóvar reflects on Salvador’s life. Alberto Iglesias’s score, which won the Cannes Soundtrack Award is still playing in my head long after I finished watching the film, itself a part of the fabric of Almodóvar’s story.
It is in modern times that Salvador begins to connect the pieces of his past, having finally found the courage to write about his experiences, something Alberto wants desperately to turn into a one-man stage play, a point which Salvador finally relents on.
I’ve subtly mentioned my third thought about “Pain and Glory,” which had my gaydar going off like Santa jingling his bells during Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade.
Almodóvar introduces us to Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia), a former lover of Salvador’s, allowing the two characters to reconnect. The passion between Salvador and Federico is one of familiarity. Yet, the gulf between the two is such that we know they cannot pick up their relationship as it was, though Federico is able to help Salvador pinpoint his failings.
I related to this aspect of the film the most because it hits home.
There’s a beauty and a vulnerability in the way Almodóvar stages the interlude between Salvador and Federico. The rekindling of a friendship results in the recognition that we must, all of us, change or forever be caught in the confluences of time’s effect on relationships: regret.
As Salvador reflects on his current situation, and his desire to punch through his monotony, he treated us to a flashback of his relationship as an adult with his mom, played by Julieta Serrano.
There is heartbreak, but there is also one final recognition of his journey through Eduardo (César Vicente), a labourer from his childhood as Salvador, and Almodóvar, begin their respective journeys to reconcile their lives, drawing strength from their creative centers.
If I’m waxing poetic about “Pain and Glory,” it’s because it’s a film that made me more comfortable, and perhaps even more confident about where I am in my life right now; confident that I don’t need to linger in the past, that I can draw strength from it; confidence that I can continue to change and for the better. More importantly, that I must change.
It is very easy to see why Banderas, who carries a verisimilitude in his performance, won the Cannes Best Actor Award and why Almodóvar has been nominated for many other festival awards this year.
“Pain and Glory” transported me to Spain within its fabric: the music, the colors, the emotions, the people, the language: it is most deservedly worthy of representing Spain as this year’s Oscar Best International Feature Film submission.
I dubiously doubted my own gaydar for a moment, checking to see if Almodóvar was gay. The impression from the film is such that I am in good company.
My only disappointment is that I waited this long to begin exploring Almodóvar’s oeuvre. “Pain and Glory” certainly has earned a place in my Top 10 of 2019 and is worthy of your time.
Written and Directed by: Pedro Almodóvar
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Asier Etxeandia, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Nora Navas, Julieta Serrano, César Vicente, Penélope Cruz
R, 113 minutes, A Sony Pictures Classics/El Deseo Release, Spanish with English Subtitles