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Review: Pain and Glory

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- This 21st film by Pedro Almodóvar exudes the intense emotions that have shaped his life, and features Antonio Banderas as the mirror-image of the director behind Talk To Her and All About My Mother

Review: Pain and Glory
Antonio Banderas in Pain and Glory

Years ago, while on a trip, the author of this article made the acquaintance of someone who lived in the village where Pedro Almodóvar grew up and listened to the stories this person told (events which he had witnessed), which revealed that the childhood of this two-time Oscar winner wasn’t in fact all that happy. It would be entirely possible, I imagined, to turn those facts into a film – a serious and respectful documentary even – about Almodóvar’s life, which would help his vast audience to get to know him more intimately and to move beyond the flashes of his life history which we previously glimpsed in Law of Desire and Bad Education [+see also:
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. But the director has taken things further in his 21st feature film, intitled Pain and Glory [+see also:
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, where he offers up aspects of his existence which he has never before spoken of. Reality seeps into fiction as Almodóvar is reincarnated as a director in crisis played by Antonio Banderas.

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The first few minutes of the film, where we see Banderas mimicry mode – wearing the same brightly coloured clothes, the same dishevelled hair, and imitating the same gestures made by the director of Volver [+see also:
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interview: Agustín Almodóvar
interview: Carmen Maura
interview: Pedro Almodóvar
interview: Pénélope Cruz
film profile
]
–, baffle the viewer, who wonders why Almodóvar is portraying himself in this way. Out of resentment? To settle debts with the past? As sort form of therapy or testimonial? Out of a lack of ideas? As an act of reconciliation…? One or more of these might explain why the director has laid himself so intensely, emotionally bare, with all the stubborn sadness that comes from feeling different, misunderstood and out of place, and which pervades Pain and Glory.

There is, indeed, far more pain than glory in this new film by this Manchegan filmmaker who, in this instance – as in his previous work, Julieta [+see also:
film review
trailer
Q&A: Pedro Almodóvar
film profile
]
– sets aside the brilliant humour and unbridled passion which characterise the more joyful and torrential titles of his back-catalogue. He opts instead for a serene, calm and restrained narrative – at times bordering on tedious – which jumps back and forth through time, and from metafiction to autofiction, inviting the viewer into his home in Madrid or into the private world of his family. There’s none of the wit and the “Costumbrismo” which we so enjoyed in The Flower of My Secret, for example.

This portrayal slowly creeps into the soul of the viewer, who gradually succumbs to the strange and obscure spell cast by the film, while a few brighter moments - namely Leonardo Sbaraglia’s scenes - remind audiences of the sexier films in Almodóvar’s repertoire. There is a dialogue in Pain and Glory where the protagonist (Antonio as the mirror image of Pedro) asks himself how his films can be successful in places so far removed from Spain and Spanish idiosyncrasies; Iceland, for example. We’ll leave it up to students of the seventh art to decipher this mystery. For the time being, Pain and Glory will thrill Pedro’s fans, but it won’t be of interest to the rest of the audience (especially Spanish viewers).

Ultimately, beyond the sadness running through the film, and the excessive verbosity of a few of the characters who tend to explain too much (as does the director himself every time he presents a film), Pain and Glory is primarily an ode to Almodóvar’s love of film: the big, white screen saved that sensitive child from a hostile environment and, decades later, helped the mature artist overcome adversity, whether in the form of poor health, mistakes or time. With this film, Pedro Almodóvar pens his own version of Fellini’s 8 1/2, even if he was looking more towards Rapture by Iván Zulueta, where cinema wasn’t just a dependency; it was life itself.

Pain and Glory was shot in El Escorial, Madrid and Paterna (Valencia) and includes animated segments created by Juan Gatti. It is produced by El Deseo D.A. S.L. and El primer deseo, A.I.E., receiving support from the ICAA and RTVE. It is released in Spain on 22 March 2019 and distributed by Sony Pictures Entertainment Iberia, with international sales handled by America’s FilmNation Entertainment.

(Translated from Spanish)

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