Billed as an autobiographical piece from lauded Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, Pain and Glory is the most emotionally naked feature he has delivered yet.
Whether it’s commenting on his life through the film’s actual content or its more just a matter of approach is subjective, but the narrative on hand certainly stands as his most personal to date. And with his salt and pepper beard, slightly unkept hair, and penchant for colourful shirts, it’s difficult to argue that Antonio Banderas isn’t reflecting the filmmaker in the slightest.
Perhaps not quite Almodovar but Banderas’ Salvador Mallo, an ageing director, is an alter-ego, a channel for which Almodovar can confess his sins, his doubts and his regrets. Pain and Glory is a film that is built heavy on reflection, and the titular emotions make for a literal mirroring as Mallo details the ailments that riddle his body – migraines, depression, twisted vertebrae – whilst simultaneously fondly recalling the international locations his work has afforded him to visit, learning about the different countries he could only imagine during his unorthodox school years.
The narrative weaves in and out between the past and present, though its maze-like structure never falters despite its various forms of media expression. The past predominantly looks on his time as a young child (Asier Flores) living in a small rural town in a glorified cave with his mostly-absent father (Raul Arevalo) and hard-working mother (Penelope Cruz). It’s in these moments too that a sexual awakening of sorts is suggested when the alluring bricklayer (Cesar Vicente) that is hired to fix-up the catacomb-like home Salvador lives in proves an enticing subject beyond the student figure he initially represents when the young Salvador helps him with his illiteracy.
Present-day Salvador (Banderas), who has lost any form of creative drive due to his health woes, opts to reconnect with an actor (Asier Exteandia) following a 30-year long feud born from a creative conflict whilst they were working together; some have suggested that this could perhaps be a reference to the lengthy period between Almodovar and Banderas’ own collaborative efforts. Their reunion brings about a newly-found interest in substance abuse for Salvador, who promptly gets hooked on heroin despite having always scoffed at the drug himself; these drug stupors ultimately act as a catalyst for Salvador to reminisce on his younger years.
Though the stifled creativity evident in Salvador’s temperament could suggest Almodovar’s own paralysis, Pain and Glory never once appears as anything other than a product completely in control of itself. It’s tragic and psychologically devastating, comical and beautifully confessional, and though there’s a sense that it may not resolve its narrative strands, the closing shot registers on an emotional level that superbly links the 113 minutes that have graced our eyes prior.
And then there’s Antonio Banderas. An understated performance that tonally shifts throughout without ever losing sight of his own character – there’s a beautiful moment between him and his elderly mother where the roles of parent and child are gradually exchanged – it’s such a controlled turn from the actor who has never been more vulnerable and showcased such range in his career thus far.
Pain and Glory (18+) is screening as part of this year’s Brisbane International Film Festival (October 3rd – 13th 2019) with a national theatrical release intended for November 7th 2019. For more information and session times click here.