I have to say that I’ve only recently started to get into the films of Pedro Almodovar. I’d seen The Skin I Live In when it was played by the University of Birmingham Film Society, but it was only in February this year when I watched other Almodovar films with Talk To Her and All About My Mother, which are both excellent. So when I found out that one of the Cineworld Unlimited advance screenings this month would be for Pain and Glory, I leapt at the chance, both due to it being an Almodovar film and it being one of the rare foreign language films to be shown in a multiplex cinema, and I’m glad I saw it. This is a brilliant film and feels like a perfect swansong for Almodovar.
The film follows Salvador Mallo, a film director who is in decline, feeling unable to write or direct due to a series of illnesses he has, and whose most famous film has just been restored. For the restoration, Mallo has agreed to take part in a Q&A session, but he would only do it with the lead actor, Alberto Crespo, whom he had a falling out with when the film was released due to creative difference and the actor’s drug use. When Mallo goes to reconcile with Crespo, Crespo introduces Mallo to smoking heroin and through this, Mallo starts to have recollections of his childhood, living in a converted cave, being a teacher and his time in a seminary choir. Now the film feels very autobiographical for Almodovar. I don’t know much about him personally but given the subject matter of the film it’s fair to say that Almodovar has brought some elements of himself into this film and the way these elements are handled seem to show a powerful sense of self-reflection on Almodovar’s part. The film is about someone trying to put their life into context and becoming comfortable with expressing his deepest personal secrets, desires and memories with the world through film and there’s this sense that the journey of Mallo is that of Almodovar as well. There’s also this bittersweet nature of the film reflecting memories and things that people wish they could have done differently. It’s hard to go into more detail without spoiling what makes the film so powerful but there’s this rawness and vulnerability to the film that brings a sense of truth for Almodovar and, I have to say that there were a few points where I ended up crying.
The performances meanwhile are excellent. Antonio Banderas puts in career best work as Mallo. A lot of the power in the film comes through Banderas showing himself to be incredibly vulnerable and in pain (physically and emotionally) and seeing him come to terms with his life and his work is powerful to watch. We see the character deal with his growing drug addiction, his sexuality and his ongoing pain and Banderas effectively shows all of these elements in an understated, genuine way that avoids going over the top, allowing for small gestures to sell the emotion of the character. For the other performances, Aseir Etxeandia is powerful as Crespo, showing the disintegration of the previous relationship between Crespo and Mallo well, along with how a new friendship grows and how he is battling his own personal demons and using works of Mallo to work through his pain, whilst Leonardo Sbaraglia makes an incredible impression in a key scene late in the film, which is one of the moments of the film which made me cry. Great work in smaller roles is also seen by Julietta Serrano and Cecilia Roth whilst Asier Flores is excellent as the younger version of Mallo. As Mallo’s mum (in the flashback scenes) Penelope Cruz is excellent as well, showing a strong maternal nature along with an understanding of the difficulties of her life and a desire to make the most of her situation. I don’t want to say too much so I don’t spoil the film, but her performance is excellent.
The technical side of the film is very impressive. The cinematography and direction has that distinct Almodovar feel, with the way it’s handled in this film allowing for the small gestures of Banderas to be shown effectively, along with making great use of colour. The location work as well adds to the autobiographical element of the film as, at least according to what I’ve read, a lot of the scenes with Mallo were filmed in Almodovar’s flat, which adds an extra element of authenticity to the film. The film also makes great use of an animated scene to let us understand the thought process of Mallo as he comes to terms with his illnesses whilst the music is beautiful, adding to the bittersweet feel of the film.
Overall, Pain and Glory is an excellent film and, whilst I doubt it will be, feels like a perfect swansong for Almodovar’s career. The bittersweet, powerful nature of the film, combined with a career best performance from Antonio Banderas, add to create one of the most moving films I’ve seen in a long time, so much so that I ended up crying at multiple points during the film, and that just goes to show the power this film has and the brilliance of Almodovar.
My Rating: 5/5