Review: PAIN AND GLORY
Pedro Almodóvar’s newest film, PAIN AND GLORY, opens with titles portrayed simply in a white frame amidst a swirling backdrop of vivid colors. That scheme will be reversed in much of the film, with vivid colors against a white backdrop, but it immediately conveys that we’re in an Almodóvar film. A particularly introspective one.
PAIN AND GLORY centers around internationally famous director Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas), clearly being a stand-in for Almodóvar , who is struggling with crippling pain from spinal fusion surgery, frequent headaches, and disconcerting, frequent, unexplained choking. It’s a struggle for him to even get out of a chair, and he’s withdrawn from life as a result. And from writing too, as he’s in too much pain to actually direct a film, so why go through the effort of writing? But, a restoration of a past glory brings him out of his shell enough to reconcile with an actor he had a falling out with long ago and sets him on a path to reconcile his memories and ideas with his present.
Almodóvar blurs the lines between fact and fiction, using his own home and paintings as a basis for Mallo’s apartment and lending Banderas some of Almodovar’s own clothes. But, this is clearly a work of fiction and shouldn’t be taken literally, I suspect having Mallo using heroin as a salve for his pain, is a fiction and probably a playful metaphor for Almodóvar’s habit of relying on heroines for his films as he deals with a complicated relationship with his own mother. Still, I expect that the complicated feelings that are expressed towards his own past are true, first awakening desires, lost loves, regrets, a complicated relationship with his mother and cinema, struggles with excess, reflections on past glories, and uncertainty about the future are true. It feels like a deeply personal film. Just not literally in the way the movie depicts.
But, what PAIN AND GLORY depicts is vivid, funny, dramatic, complicated and at all times extremely entertaining, emotional, and thoughtful. When asked if a story is a comedy or drama, Almodovar’s stand in responds that he never knows until he’s done and that’s an apt description of the film. Almodóvar is grappling with pain and mortality, but he knows that this grappling can be ridiculous at times too. It’s no accident when Mallo attempts to make peace with actor Alberto Crespo, a terrific Asier Etxeandia, after 32 years, that it has to be done while Crespo is wearing a Guns and Roses t-shirt and may be high.
PAIN AND GLORY is a melodrama. It certainly is aiming to elicit an emotional reaction. But, it’s also a film that clearly wants to give an actors a showcase. Antonio Banderas hasn’t worked with Almodóvar since TIE ME UP, TIE ME DOWN, but it seems each brings out the best in each other after all these years. Banderas’ Mallo says that an actor being on the verge of tears but holding back is more moving than an actor breaking down and crying and the performance that Banderas gives is an exercise in that. It’s very restrained, the showiest thing that Banderas does is gingerly get in and out of a car due to a bad back, but there’s always a playful twinkle in his eyes despite an enormous amount of pain. Not a note rings false. It’s one of Banderas’ best performances.
And Banderas is supported by a slew of terrific performances, many by Almodóvar veterans. Asier Etxeandia is all charm as the estranged actor Alberto Crespo, but when he gets ahold of one of Mallo’s manuscripts for a dramatic monologue, he shows depth and true emotion. Nora Navas, a former Almodóvar muse, is all warm and knowing as a former Mallo muse that’s wise to Mallo’s ways. Leonardo Sbaraglia dazzles as a former lover. And Julieta Serrano will break your heart as Mallo’s elderly mother.
Also, Almodóvar’s camera just loves Penelope Cruz.
PAIN AND GLORY is a strong personal statement from Pedro Almodóvar. It’s dazzling visually and full of life. Lots of directors make reflective statements on their careers as they age. But, 70 year old Almodóvar proves that there’s plenty of future glory left in him. And plenty of light amidst the darkness.