Full disclosure, Pedro Almodovar is by far my favorite living filmmaker alive today. To me, Almodovar is the closest thing we have to Luis Buñuel and Federico Fellini in terms of originality and style. His body of work is beyond impressive and complex, which can be intimidating for anyone attempting to watch an Almodovar film for the first time. However, Pain and Glory is an excellent entry point for anyone interested in exploring the deep and outstanding filmography of Pedro Almodovar.
The story centers around Salvador (Antonio Banderas), a depressed movie director who is thinking of retiring from filmmaking because of chronic health problems. Meanwhile, a film festival wants to screen one of Salvador’s films and have the director and the lead actor Alberto (Asier Etxeandia) do a Q & A after the screening. But Salvador and Alberto had a falling out and have not spoken to each other in many years.
Reconnecting with Alberto, followed by a series of encounters with people from his past; Plus, a look back at his childhood leads Salvador to reflect on his choices throughout his life. Additionally, the mother and son relationship is a crucial component of this story. Salvador’s mom Jacinta (Penelope Cruz), is a highly influential figure here. The constant collaboration between Penelope Cruz and Almodovar is always magic.
We get to see young Salvador (Asier Flores) coming of age in a small town village in Spain under the influence of Franco’s fascist regime. It is remarkable how the old worldly nature of living in caves and catacombs’ housing style, somewhat disconnected from the modern 20th century, is presented. This depiction of provincial Spain and the old-world country people of Spain is beautifully done.
Young Salvador’s sexual awakening and his relationship with the female energy are significant components of this story. Also, the way that childhood is remembered through the company of women who helped define the world for him is extremely important. The mother-son bedside scene as their older selves is one of the most powerfully moving written scenes in the entire Almodovar filmography.
Ultimately, this is the story of a filmmaker in crisis — Reflecting on his career and life story while dealing with his body breaking down. On top of that, reconnecting with essential people from his past, like Alberto and Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia), forces Salvador to reconsider multiple aspects of his life. At the same time, remembering his sexual awakening also allows Salvador to resurrect his creative spirit and piece together all these different elements of his life’s journey.
The parallels between Pedro Almodovar and Salvador are astounding. The character of Salvador is clearly modeled after Almodovar; Salvador dresses like him and even lives in an apartment that closely resembles Almodovar’s place. In addition, they are both dealing with similar health issues, including back pain.
Incredible performance by Antonio Banderas. There is a physical aspect to this role that Banderas captures brilliantly. Plus, Banderas’s vulnerability comes across exceptionally well. Salvador lives in darkness, but there is beauty and a colorful energy around him.
Pain and Glory is an impressive film — It comes off as fresh and different but somewhat familiar to previous films by Almodovar. As far as I can tell, Almodovar uses similar themes here that he developed in his earlier movies. It feels like this is the story Pedro had been making for the last 40 years of his filmmaking career. His stories and themes always seem to relate to the same central thing; sexual identity, cinema culture, and Spanish culture.
All in all, this is a highly complex story, but all of it comes together cohesively. It is an intensely personal film, full of melancholy, regret, addiction, depression, pain, and glory.
Five out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿
Pain and Glory (2019).