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Pain and Glory

Pedro Almodovar is in the rare class of directors to be in genres of their own. The Spanish auteur’s exploration of the irrationalities of desire and how its indulgences are the most human aspects of us all, struck a chord, both at home as well as internationally. Almodovar has gone on to construct and impressive filmography that has produced milestones for Spanish as well as international cinema in terms of on-screen representation as well as narrative style. It is rare that such a director would comment on his or her legacy so directly, and yet as he has shown time and again, Almodovar is not a conventional director.

Pain and Glory (2019) is the story of Salvador (Antonio Banderas) a veteran director afflicted with an incredible array of maladies that range from the physical to the psychological and “spiritual” as he says. The film follows his disenchantment with the world and cinema, all the while jumping back in time to look at Salvador’s beginnings and his relationship with his mother (Penelope Cruz).

Almodovar has always had a deft hand at balancing his films between melodramas and introspective pieces of the human condition. He achieves this in Pain and Glory, with a noticeable restraint of comedy. This lack of laughs doesn’t harken to his darkest film, The Skin I Live In (2011), instead taking on a much more melancholy and quiet tone. This would seem to be a contradiction with Almodovar and his style, as he is more prone to chaos and colors, but Pain and Glory seeks completely upend Almodovar’s core theme throughout his films: desire. Since his first film in Pepi, Luci, Bom and Other Girls Like Mom (1980) Almodovar has always been keen to explore desire and how it pushes us in our every action in our lives. The Spaniard went on to evolve his exploration of desire, from sex and romance in his early 1980s and 1990s films, to the desire of youth and nostalgia. However, in Pain and Glory it is the absence of desire that envelops Salvador.

This lack of desire is explored and slowly rekindled as Salvador begins to track through his past, visiting and remembering the important people in his life. The film being split into three seeming chapters with three separate characters curiously helps blend the complexity and melded emotional effects that such people have on Salvador’s life. Each third could easily have made for a sweet and emotional film individually, but brought together the stories bring about a catharsis that blows viewers into a paralysis of ethos.

The film is a clear allusion to Almodovar’s own troubles and past, as well as his own relationship with actor Banderas, who plays Salvador. It is a curious melding of roles that brings about a career-best performance from Banderas who not only seems to capture Almodovar’s mannerisms, but showcases an inner decay and suffering in Salvador in a truly translucent way; his every shudder of a breath or side-ways look seems to be infected with depression and pain. Even amongst more showier actors in the film, Banderas seems to hold his own, choosing for restraint and silence. Such a performance is even commented on directly in the film, with Salvador noting, “The merit in an actor is not in crying, is in being able to hold back the tears.” It is that subtle yet magnanimous skill that is brought forth by Banderas, and is able to infect us with such a gentle ease.

In Pain and Glory Almodovar has been able to bring about one of his most cautiously crafted and emotionally complete films in nearly a decade. The Spaniard still plays around with the seeming contradictions that emotions and passions can have, but looking at them through a refreshing new stance of disillusionment and quietude. This impeccable craft is aided by a stellar cast, led by a fabulous Banderas who seems to reach his own zenith as Salvador. If anything, Pain and Glory indicates towards a long filmic life of emotional and passionate explorations for Almodovar.



About Young Critic

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I've been writing on different version of this website since February of 2013. I originally founded the website in a film-buff phase in high school, but it has since continued through college and into my adult life. Young Critic may be getting older, but the love and passion for film is forever young. 

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