With acclaimed films such as “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” “Talk to Her” and “The Skin I Live In,” Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar developed a name for himself in the global film community. In 2003, he won an Oscar for screenwriting with “Talk to Her” and he was nominated for Best Director for the same film.
The latest film to come from Almodóvar is “Pain and Glory,” which tells the story of Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas), a popular film director reflecting on his life and struggling with the person he has become.
Through a series of flashbacks in the film, Almodóvar paints Salvador as a child living in a poor Spanish village. As his family struggles to put food on the table, he always seems to look on the bright side. This is contrasted by the rest of the film, set in the present day, as it focuses on Salvador in his later years of life. Living in a luxurious Madrid apartment, he struggles to find happiness. He has multiple prominent health issues, and has developed a heroin addiction.
At its core, “Pain and Glory” is a story about a man yearning for the happiness he held as a child.
This simple plot idea provides the film with an incredibly rich emotional story arc to follow. The audience is along for the ride as Salvador goes through various good and bad moments in his life. He rekindles old relationships, while hiding his addiction from his friends and family. He still finds joy in writing outlines and scripts for stories, but is burdened with back problems that make it too difficult for him to film.
The film lacks significant story points, which oddly isn’t a bad thing. It’s kicked off by Salvador seeking out an old friend because they’ve been asked to host a Q&A about a film they made 30 years ago. From there, the audience is just witnessing Salvador live his life. He’s not brought along on any grand adventure. He’s not forced to confront any old or new enemies. He’s just a man going about his daily routines, trying to attain some form of happiness he once had.
It’s this simplicity that makes “Pain and Glory” excellent. Despite the film establishing that he’s a hugely popular filmmaker, Salvador feels like a normal person. He has his own personal struggles and demons that stop him from always doing the right thing, and occasionally from even knowing what the right thing would be. By portraying Salvador this way, Almodóvar made him an incredibly relatable character. The audience legitimately cares about what’s happening in his life because it almost feels like it could be theirs.
Further adding to the relatability of Salvador was the phenomenal performance from Banderas. For his performance in “Pain and Glory,” Banderas won the award for Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival this year, and it is easy to understand why. Banderas completely disappears into this role. All of the emotions Salvador is feeling and the decisions he makes are believable simply because he feels like a real person. Banderas’ emotions are strikingly authentic, and, because of this realness, it’s easy to forget that he’s even performing at all. His performance feels personal and genuine, and it’s probably the best acting I’ve ever seen from Banderas.
With “Pain and Glory,” Almodóvar gives audiences a look behind the curtain of fame. Instead of depicting Salvador as this larger-than-life filmmaker, he depicts him as a real person with real issues. Though the film isn’t directly based on Almodóvar’s life, it’s apparent that it is largely inspired by it. “Pain and Glory” was an incredibly personal and potentially therapeutic film for Almodóvar to make. This makes the film all the more compelling for the audience, and it’s one that won’t be easily forgotten.