Pain & Glory, 2019.
Directed by Pedro Almodóvar.
Starring Antonio Banderas, Asier Etxeandia, Penélope Cruz, Julieta Serrano and Leonardo Sbaraglia.
A film director reflects on the choices he’s made in life as past and present come crashing down around him.
The title of Pain & Glory is a truly perfect way to describe the film. While there are some heartbreakingly painful moments, there are also glorious moments along the way.
There’s a duality to the film that is balanced perfectly by director Pedro Almodovar. Just when you are feeling as low as the character of Salvador Mallo, something brings you back up, like you are on the best kind of rollercoaster of emotions. While usual tonal shifts like this could be jarring or give you a whiplash effect, that’s not present here. Pain & Glory walks a fine line the entire time, and that’s remarkable in of itself.
When I walked into the screening, I knew little about the film other than it’s another collaboration between Almodovar and Antonio Banderas. Their eighth project together, which spans both of their long careers. Also, the vague plot of a director explaining his life through love and addiction in the synopsis. That cluelessness worked in the film’s benefit as everything came as a surprise to me and hit me like a thousand bricks.
From the severity of not just Salvador’s addiction to the love that Salvador has for cinema, his mother, and his former lover, Pain & Glory fills this subtle film to the brim with so much rawness. Multiple moments brought a tear to my eye if it was from a hard laugh to an actual emotion beat; you feel everything in this piece.
Yes, if you were to label this film with just one genre title, it would be drama. But that’s selling the film short for its genuine comedic moments as well. It’s a darker type of comedy, for sure, but Almodovar makes you feel those “you just have to laugh at the situation” moments of life.
There’s also a very reflective tone to the movie as well. I’m personally not near the age of the character in the film, but I can relate to looking back at your youth. Those small moments in your current life that trigger the good and bad memories of your childhood. Or even a lover from the past that shows their face after so many years. All of that is beautifully depicted here, with Banderas and the supporting cast making you feel like your and your loved ones.
Before getting into what Antonio Banderas brings to the film, the supporting cast needs a spotlight on them. The women of Salvador’s life add to the character with both Penélope Cruz and Julieta Serrano shining in the role of his mother. Serrano’s short time on-screen makes a punch with fleshing out the mother/son relationship. Cruz is terrific as his mother in the past, bringing such happiness to those moments. No surprise there, though, as she’s worked with the director just as much as Banderas has.
Asier Etxeandia is the real scene-stealer, though, giving an excellent turn as an actor from Salvador’s past. Etxeandia gives his character Alberto so many beautiful moments with a meaty chunk of dialogue at the center of the film that took my breath away. There’s a love/hate relationship between Salvador and Alberto that makes every one of their scenes something to behold.
But we know the star of this piece is Antonio Banderas. Taking home the prize for Best Actor at Cannes comes as no surprise with Banderas turning out a career highlight here. Salvador is a complex, complicated character that you are instantly endeared to, even when he’s trying to push everyone away from him.
Banderas brings something to the role that speaks to me. From the optimistic young child to the lost older artist, the nuances to this character is outstanding. While the part has some over-the-top traits on paper, there’s never once where it feels like that in the performance. Everything is done with pin-point accuracy, never making it feel inorganic.
My favorite moment is the reunion between Salvador and a lover from his past. It features the awkwardness of the moment with the nerves and anticipations, as well. Such a real moment that felt even more real with Banderas there. This is a significant turning point for the character, and you know it before it’s even spoken, purely by the acting.
Pain & Glory is a film done with sleek precision and masterful execution. There are not too many pieces like this hitting our cinemas, and it’s a shame. This charming little film packs more heart than most blockbusters combined. From the acting to the compelling story, you’ll feel this movie for a while after.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★