“Pain and Glory” presents an uncompromising look at the trials and tribulations of the life of a Spanish filmmaker in cinematic legend Pedro Almodóvar’s latest release. Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) paints a reflective portrait of a filmmaker after his prime and examines the intersections and shortcomings of one man’s creative and emotional life.
This Spanish film is heartfelt and discusses themes of addiction, childhood and love. The film’s title captures the main tension that runs throughout the story of a filmmaker in the tail end of his career. As Salvador now suffers from back pain, tinnitus and the lasting effects of abusive figures in his past, he relives simultaneously the emotional trauma and cinematic successes that determined his directorial career.
Pedro Almodóvar, the film’s director, first gained national recognition directing in Spain’s countercultural renaissance, beginning in Madrid and expanding to various Spanish cities. He began with his cult classic debut, “Pepi, Luci, Bom.”
For the next three decades, Almodóvar went on to direct 20 more films, perfecting his craft and conveying personal and dark themes. “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” propelled Almodóvar to international stardom with a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the 1989 Academy Awards. Almodóvar won two Oscars for his later films, 1999’s “All About My Mother” for Best Foreign Language Film and 2002’s “Talk to Her” for Best Original Screenplay.
The film then opens, in light of Almodóvar’s real life directorial success, to the movie’s fictional director Salvador rereleasing the film he made in 1980 that launched him to fame in the present day, and this return to the spotlight provides the backdrop for Salvador’s ruminations on his past.
“Pain and Glory” succeeds in documenting how an artist can translate their past experiences, relationships and trauma into beautiful art. The editor, Teresa Font depicts the passage of time with distinct and lush colors. In scenes that depict Salvador’s childhood with his mother Jacinta (Penélope Cruz) and his father (Raúl Arévalo), the whitewashed walls and clear skies of his hometown Paterna transport the audience without breaking up the film’s momentum with a jarring transition.
The film’s content has an intense impact, but it could have packed more material into its runtime that does not even go over two hours. The film forgoes any depiction of Salvador’s life into his teenage years and transition into adulthood, but the film was not so pressed for time that it had to cut these parts out. A more dedicated look at Salvador’s motivations and later career in filmmaking would have served the film well, as it goes unmentioned in both the scenes depicting his childhood and his time as a burgeoning writer and director.
With the newfound attention that stems from Salvador’s rerelease, Salvador reconnects with the lead actor of the film, Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia) after not communicating with each other for 30 years. This reunion displays one of the film’s not-quite-parallels to Almodóvar’s actual life: Almodóvar and Banderas say they never had a falling out in real life like Salvador and Alberto, but the pair did take a 20 year hiatus before returning with the 2011 film “The Skin I Live In.”
The film ends up focusing on Salvador so exclusively, though, that other characters feel like static props that further his development rather than characters in their own right. At one point, Alberto gives a compelling monologue recounting Salvador’s story about his chaotic lover Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia), but almost immediately afterwards falls out of the movie’s spotlight.
“Pain and Glory” stands the test of time as a provoking, if relatively short, cinematic masterpiece. Antonio Banderas’ performance proves the range of characters that he can portray on screen, and Pedro Almodóvar does not disappoint with his creation of this movie as the next in his illustrious career. This Spanish master of cinema will not disappoint U.S. audience members with the message that, despite a tumultuous life full of heartbreak and hardship, a true artist can still forge beauty out of it.