PAIN AND GLORY is a beautiful portrait of an accumulation of decades of personal experiences, decisions, connections and creative expression. Pedro Almodóvar turns his skill for dissecting passion and desire inward to create a character study that is both intensely personal and relatable on account of the heartbreak and soul-stirring it conjures.
Antonio Banderas leads as Salvador Mallo, an analogue for Almodóvar himself complete with an electric shock of hair and substantial sunglasses. Mallo is a film director suffering from various physical and mental ailments, with his best days – creatively and personally – seemingly behind him. However, a personal reassessment of his highly regarded early film Sabor, ahead of a retrospective screening to which he is invited along with the lead actor he clashed with during filming, prompts a series of reconnections and reflections on his life. While experimenting with heroin for his physical pain, which then leads to different tones of artistic expression, Mallo considers the journey that has brought him to where he is now.
“The fire of an arrogantly domineering creative spirit, concealing a complex personal trajectory, but dimmed by years of ailing inspiration and health, is layered by [Banderas’s] tender expressions and dulcet Spanish baritone.”
Antonio Banderas, long Almodóvar’s go-to leading man, gives a wonderful performance filled with both passion and restraint. The fire of an arrogantly domineering creative spirit, concealing a complex personal trajectory, but dimmed by years of ailing inspiration and health, is layered by his tender expressions and dulcet Spanish baritone. Although always a reliable performer, particularly for Almodóvar, Banderas here displays a wide-eyed sincerity that deeply connects with the material. Salvador’s childhood, illustrated in brightly sunlit depictions of the whitewashed cave in which he lived, is tenderly and amusingly portrayed by Asier Flores.
Visually there is a clarity of colour and sureness of setting characteristic of Almodóvar’s filmography. The film positively bleeds with varying shades of red, from the more sanguine deep maroon of Mallo’s home furnishings and attire – in adulthood and childhood – through to the passionate and vibrant scarlet backdrop to Alberto’s (Asier Etxeandia) theatrical performance of Mallo’s newly-penned story.
“It has been said that a person is merely the sum of his experiences; PAIN AND GLORY is a wonderfully cinematic illustration of this adage.”
After reconciliation with Alberto, Mallo declares “it has taken [him] 32 years to reconcile” with his impression of his film, but PAIN AND GLORY is less about coming to terms with the past than it is about reconnecting to it. Salvador’s experiences push him to better understand himself, rather than simply accept his past. It has been said that a person is merely the sum of his experiences; PAIN AND GLORY is a wonderfully cinematic illustration of this adage.
As the film concludes there is a sense that both Salvador and the real Almodóvar have renewed themselves with late-career glories. The Spanish word ‘dolor’ has many meanings beyond the English word ‘pain’, and all those translations are apparent in Almodóvar’s film and Banderas’s performance: the grief of loss, the sorrow of disappointment, and the aching desire that life amounts to everything you hope.