I have been avidly waiting for this film, ever since watching Julieta (2016) and knowing his next film would be only two-three years after. Viewing his entire filmography for my dissertation on my small laptop screen was never ideal, so having the opportunity to see Pain and Glory on the cinema screen made the wait for this release worth every second. You know what you’re getting when you experience a Pedro Almodóvar film; his personality and eccentricity is weaved throughout every dramatic and comedic tale; his favourite actors bringing his ideas to life every time. Yet despite the same themes, relationships, actors, colours, and even storylines, no one of his films is the same monotonous and repetitive piece. They each have their own quirky edge that helps define them as their own masterpiece, and the vibrancy Almodóvar brings is never dulled or palliated.
Pain and Glory contains many Almodóvarian traits; drugs, maternal relationships, female strength, and an almost-meta understanding of its own construct as the medium of film. Antonio Banderas, who has worked alongside Almodóvar from early on in the director’s career (as always, adapting and creating roles for his favoured actors instead of forgetting them as they age), is the physically-ailed director Salvador Mallo – an interesting anagram – who revisits his past through flashbacks and chance meetings that bring back vivacity to his otherwise repetitive and painful life, as shown through a colourful graphic montage of his chronic back pains, migraines, and a slew of other physiological-issues. Banderas brings a tenderness to his role, even in his beginners-uncertainty rollings of a cigarette that he brushes with heroin. It’s implied throughout the film that he starts using this drug in order to understand his past-lovers addiction that eventually broke them apart. Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia), the man that Salvador clearly has a deep affection for, happens upon one of Alberto Crespo’s (Asier Exteandia) performances of Salvador’s writings about their past relationship and the effect heroin had. Almodóvar loves to play with layers of performance, often having his characters play the part of actors or directors (as seen in Pain and Glory) and using that fiction to progress the first story; Sbaraglia and Banderas both share a tender scene that, despite the few words and last-kiss they share together, don’t say as much as their body language does. The acting in this scene stood out to me as the gentle, yet exceptionally emotional, interaction reveals so much about Banderas’ character that works with the audience to finalise that alignment with Salvador. Other flashbacks reveal much more about Salvador’s childhood that communicate such a sorrowful regret that he seems to understand and begin to resolve in his final moments, ending his on-screen story on a hopeful note.
Banderas’ final moments are not the finale of Pain and Glory, though, as that last scene is awarded to the conclusive ‘flashback’ that reveals so much more about Almodóvar’s desire for this films concept. Penélope Cruz, who plays young-Salvador’s mother in the scenes of the past, turns her back on her child as they are forced to sleep in a derelict building during their travel to a village where her husband has found them a new home. As the camera slowly zooms out, we see a crew member holding a boom mic, and as another person cuts the scene and Cruz and the boy ‘wake up’, it is now understood that all these ‘flashbacks’ Salvador has been having and reminiscing about his childhood and his relationship with his mother, are in fact just the performances in Salvador’s new film. This is a tactic Almodóvar has used before, and a concept I love every time. It makes the audience wonder about a character’s vision of reality, of what they think about, of their impact on the fictional world of film and storytelling and one shapes the other. This is Almodóvar’s role, of director, of describing his own life through these ideas of relationships between mother and son and of love. It’s comedic in a way, to reveal that half of your film was keeping a contextual secret from the audience the whole time. But it is the type of comedy Almodóvar is so familiar with and keeps on producing with the same intelligence and emotional weight that the entirety of his films holds.
I hope I have the opportunity to continue seeing his future films on the big-screen as Pain and Glory was such a fantastic piece of artwork and entertainment to experience. All his films hold something unique and special, and something I can relate to, and this is no expectation.