Film Review – Pain and Glory
Pain and Glory
Pedro Almodóvar has too much he wants to talk about and that keeps the film from reaching great status, which is a shame because what he wants to discuss is really fascinating. In Pain and Glory Salvador (Antonio Banderas), a stand-in for Pedro Almodóvar, is a director who has not worked in some time due to physical ailments that have left him in too much pain to focus, plus he has had years of depression both due to this pain and his own life choices. The film is mostly a set of vignettes in which past issues in Salvador’s life come back to him in ways that, while connected, stretch credibility. The first big one is that an old film of Salvador’s has reached “classic” status and the film society would like him present a newly released restored version of the film. This gives Salvador a chance to reconnect with the film’s star, Alberto (Asier Etxeandia), who he has not seen in the thirty years since the film was made.
The dynamic between these two is intriguing. There is respect between the two that is underpinned by them both being prima donnas concerning how they thought the movie they made together should have turned out, and where their careers are now. Alberto is just getting by as an actor and is a casual heroin user but is still talented. Salvador is well-regarded but has not worked in years even though he has written some works that are more a meditation of his own pain. This is gleaned by Alberto and he is intrigued to do something with them. We have intermittent flashbacks of young Salvador (Asier Flores) and his mother Jacinta (Penelope Cruz) that touch on the love he has for his mother that also hints at some tension they will have down the road. However, their relationship is never given the time to really become the interesting dynamic you can tell Almodóvar wants it to be in order to truly show the importance of his mother.
Other conflicts from Salvador’s past are also explored that will not be mentioned here due to spoilers. The overall takeaway is Almodóvar confesses a lot of the regret about major events in both his personal and professional life. While commendable and very brave I wish Almodóvar would have focused more on just one aspect of the story he wants to tell or else made this movie much longer. There is so much more that I want to know that this movie leaves behind, making it equally frustrating and intriguing.
For instance, much has been made about Antonio Banderas’s acting in the film and he does convey the weight of the pain and regret that his character has, both in his face and his movements. There is so much melancholy in him that even when something good is happening to him we know that he is never going to be happy. Yet the acting of Asier Etxeandia is just as compelling. Alberto also has had a rough life from what little we see of him. His acting career has not been what he thinks it should be, and what is worse is that he knows he is good at it. The dynamic between him and Salavador is so complex, with regret over time lost and old wounds from both having such a different viewpoint of the character Alberto played thirty years ago! Alberto’s discovery of the words Salavador wrote merely as a mental exercise really are as beautiful as Alberto says they are, and seeing him want to express them was beautiful to watch. So much to mine and for the first half we get that and then it just fades away.
The other cast members are good but they do not have the screen time built up to allow Salavador’s reactions to them make as much of an impact. Even Penelope Cruz really isn’t given enough time to flesh out much about who she is as a mother for Salvador beyond wanting more for him than what she and his father have. That is a normal reaction but it leads in some different directions that could have worked if more time was spent on them, or if the movie only focused on the mother and son.
The overall feel is that this is a good but not a great film. So many intriguing characters and interesting dialogue that suggest so many concepts for stories that never completely gel together. Nothing is completely out of place but, overall, the film lacks cohesion and abandons too many story lines that result in frustration because their potential is unfulfilled. Pedro Almodóvar has indeed led a life that lends itself to a feature film, and I hope we get to see more musings and recollections from him on screen. This is a good first step into those revelations, and with more work and a stronger focus that can be achieved.