A soul searching portrait of an aging tortured artist and the value of suffering for your art.
IMDB Synopsis: A film director reflects on the choices he’s made in life as past and present come crashing down around him.
Working as a thinly veiled piece of autofiction, director Pedro Almodovar has created a brilliantly sincere and evocative film in Pain and Glory. Built on a devastating performance from Antonio Banderas as the main subject, Salvador Gallo, the Spanish actor turns in an internalized, uneasy portrait of a man wracked by a lifetime of, well, pain and glory.
Pain and Glory follows Salvador Gallo, a heralded yet aging director, who is quite literally suffering from pain, both physical and psychological. The director is asked to preside over a screening of a remastered film, Sabor (translation: Taste) with the then-star of the film Alberto Crespo (Asier Exteandia) whom he had a falling out with 32 years prior. It’s shocking how quickly Salvador takes up smoking heroin recreationally—Alberto was/is a junkie—to deal with his litany of ailments, chief among them his back pain and migraines. As we’re granted vignettes into Salvador’s past with his mother Jacinta (a frenetically wonderful Penelope Cruz), we peel back the layers on present day Salvador. And it isn’t all beautiful, as Almodovar presents a hardened old artist: egotistical, tortured, self-abusive, and dedicated.
Due to the crippling pain—or perhaps shame—Salvador hasn’t worked for many years. But during a meeting, Alberto finds a private manuscript that Salvador has written about his past—open and brutally honest—that he insists he performs “off-Broadway,” or the Madrid-version of such. In effect, Salvador can tell his story through the proxy of Alberto who can once again act and connect with real work. During a performance, a chance viewing by a middle-aged Argentinian named Frederico Delgado (Leonardo Sbaraglia) brings Salvador face-to-face with his past. In a late night scene filled with coded language and tinged with desire, the two must reconcile the un-dampened urges for one another with the fact that life had different plans.
Salvador is a little hard to engage with, especially early in the film as he self-sabotages (with heroin!) and an stubborn attitude. But as the film progresses we see a man determined to create, to inspire… to work. While ruminating on the past, he’s inspired by them—his mother’s sacrifices, of his first sexual awakening, of love lost. The film is ultimately wants us to sympathize with Salvador and his tortured existence. This isn’t a feel-good redemption arc, though. But neither is it nihilistic and bleak. It’s simply a portrait of an artist self-suffering, but he at least recognizes that the sacrifice is necessary. Quite literally, he cannot have glory without the pain. And it might not be a good thing.
Highlights: The scene between Salvador and Frederico is crackling with innuendo and nervous energy.
MVP: Antonio Banderas turns in a banner performance. The physical dexterity and mental nuance required to play this self-tortured artist are on display, and the reason he won Best Actor at Cannes.
Should you see it: It might be a bit meditative for everyone, and it’ll be limited release in the US, but if you do see it, make sure you see it again. The detail of the sets, cinematography and acting reward repeat viewings.
Director: Pedro Almodovar
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics // Original release date: October 4, 2019