Pain and Glory
Updated: Feb 9, 2020
Salvador Mallo is a celebrated director who has stopped working. He is in too much pain to direct, so he has stopped writing as well. When a beloved work of his is released in a new print, it causes him to reflect back on his life. This story, related in the fittingly titled Spanish language drama Pain and Glory, is by celebrated director Pedro Almodóvar. There is likely a lot of biography scattered throughout this character study, about a man whose work was fueled by love, loss, desire, pain and guilt. I am unaware of what is based on his life and what is fiction. What I am sure of is this is a lovely film, introspective, entertaining and very moving. Almodóvar understands his subject intimately; not only the character, but what drives the artistic process. Whether or not this story is actually personal, it feels personal in every frame.
Mallo is played by Antonio Banderas, a frequent collaborator of Pedro Almodóvar’s. It is a fantastic performance of deep emotion. He is a frustrating man, unreliable, brilliant, loving and hurtful. Pain and Glory (109 minutes without the end credits) is filled not so much with plot as with a series of vignettes showing Salvador’s past and how it comes back to him in the present. The modern day scenes have a sort of plot which sees him trying to mend fences with an actor he has not spoken to in over three decades so they can present one of their films together at a screening. However, the movie is not about how that resolves or what comes next. It is about what it makes him think, feel and want. Banderas is excellent in these moments, especially in a scene where he reconnects with an ex-lover. It is not what they are saying that is the most important. It is the emotions Salvador goes through as they talk. I do not want to ruin it for you, but Banderas embodies something Salvador says earlier about an actor fighting back tears being more powerful than them crying.
The flashbacks are focused on his relationship with his mother and the role it played in who he became. Those scenes benefit greatly from the presence of Penélope Cruz as his stern mother who will do anything she can to ensure he gets an education. Cruz, another frequent collaborator with the director, is probably playing a version of Almodóvar’s mother just as Banderas is probably playing a version of Almodóvar himself. She brings love fused with coldness and frustration mixed with determination. It may or may not be fact based, yet it is certainly truth based.
Almodóvar has created something that feels real and honest. His protagonist is struggling with emotional and physical pain caused by poor decisions in his past. Or perhaps they were not poor. Perhaps they were just choices and events, without which he would have been unable to accomplish what he has. We all tend to second guess, regret, blame and wonder. Pain and Glory is about those things and how they lead to creation. Since there is no easy to summarize narrative, it may seem meandering and unfocused. It can be a challenge to be set adrift in another’s mind. It can also be fascinating. We are with Salvador in a way that can only be expressed by a true artist.
Pain and Glory is a very personal experience. Though this is not a movie filled with twists, it is surprising and touching. It all adds up to a final shot that took my breath away due to what it means for Salvador's emotional journey. When Martin Scorsese says Marvel movies are not cinema and urges people to seek out more intimate films, I think he is referring to something like Pain and Glory. While I do believe Marvel makes real movies, even if I do not always enjoy them, this is pure cinema. It is about the human qualities that make the cinema what it is. It allows us to be someone else for a bit. I am unsure if that someone is Almodóvar or a creation of his and Banderas’. Either way, it is an experience worth having.
4½ out of 5
Antonio Banderas as Salvador Mallo
Asier Etxeandia as Alberto Crespo
Asier Flores as Salvador Mallo
Penélope Cruz as Jacinta
César Vicente as Eduardo
Nora Navas as Mercedes
Leonardo Sbaraglia as Federico Delgado
Written and Directed by Pedro Almodóvar