Getting older, for many, is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand you get more attuned with one’s place in life; on the other you are more aware of the limitation of one’s body and memory. It is this keen sense of one’s mortality that serves as the launching point in Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory.
Arguably his most personal work to date, Almodóvar’s latest film focuses on a revered filmmaker, Salvador (Antonio Banderas), struggling to cope with the latter stage of his life. Suffering from numerous ailments and stifled creatively, Salvador finds himself in an unexpected spiral. When a local cinematheque restores his critically acclaimed film Sabor, it forces the director to confront his less than favourable feelings about the work.
Part of his reconciliation with the film involves reuniting with its star Alberto (Asier Etxeandia) years after their epic falling out. A long-time junkie, it was Alberto’s addiction that soured Salvador’s view of his performance in Sabor. However, wanting Alberto to introduce the film with him at a special screening, Salvador attempts to put the past behind them. Of course, when Salvador steps on the wild side for once and tries some of Alberto’s opiates, it opens a flood of memories. Some of which involve his beloved mother Jacinta (Penélope Cruz) and a former love Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia) who was battling an addiction of his own.
Easily the most personal work in Almodóvar’s illustrious career, Pain and Glory finds the director playing with the medium in interesting ways. As if proving to himself and audiences that he is still spry, Almodóvar creates a film that is both funny and bittersweet.
Pain and Glory is a film for those who view art as essential as air itself. The film is filled with snapshots of Salvador’s life and challenges the viewer’s perception of its protagonist along the way. Almodóvar raises intriguing questions about the nature of art, who defines its value and what happens to artists when they can no longer produce the thing that has defined them the most. As Salvador struggles with his creativity and general arrogance, one can practically see Almodóvar dissecting his own achievements and missteps in life.
One of the film’s most gripping moments comes when Salvador reconnects with Federico. In these moments, striped of his arrogance, we truly see Salvador as he really is. It is fascinating to watch the sense of longing and sadness that undercuts the immense sexual tension engulfing the room.
While it is always fascinating to observe an artist take an introspective exploration of their life, Pain and Glory does not quite reach the heights of Almodóvar’s best works. However, there is still plenty to enjoy here. Banderas delivers an exquisite performance as the Almodóvar inspired Salvador. Rather than mimic his longtime collaborator, Banderas offers a nuanced and intimate portrayal that will have viewers reflecting on the various connects in their own lives.
As Almodóvar’s film shows, it is the bonds that we make with others, more so than the art they inspire, that make the pain and glory of life worth it.