Cult film director Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) suffers from a long list of ailments that stops him from working. As his breakout film is receiving a 30-year retrospective, it sets in motion a series of meetings with people from his past as he struggles with a newly formed heroin addiction.
‘Pain and Glory’ is a self-reflective meditation on the relationships that form us. I can’t help but feel it is the type of film that could only be made in a romance language, because if you heard these philosophical musings in English it would just sound like dross. Films like it have been attempted before by Hollywood and anyone that has managed to sit through something like ‘The Knight of Cups’ will know how awful they can be. But here there's this genuine and raw reflection into art and relationships.
It could have fallen into so many pitfalls and neatly sidesteps all of them. Often when films are dealing with the difficulty of creating art, they tend to take everything too seriously. Some great big existential crisis will have befallen the character. But here Salvador’s inability to make films just makes him sad, sure he’d like to make a new film but his back hurts and it’s hard to concentrate. It is a much more authentic and sensible way to treat the subject matter.
This is one of Banderas’ finest roles and in years to come when people are picking over his career it is sure to stand out. Clearly a fictionalised avatar for the director Pedro Almodóvar, everything about the role just seems authentic - every movement, article of clothing, home decor choice, just adds up perfectly for the character.
It is raw and honest but rather than beat you around the head with it, there is a real sweetness within it. The return of his former lover is a perfect example. They sit, sipping tequila and catching up and the film just takes something so simple like this and turns it into some real enthralling cinema.
It moves at a nice leisurely pace and creates such a palatable atmosphere that your other senses start to join in with what you can see and hear. The narrative is split between his childhood and autumn years. These two strains collide in two brilliant scenes that pull all the strands of together. It ends up as a nice little package and only the truly dead inside won’t leave with a grin on their face.
Already being tipped as Spain's entry into the Oscars, from the outset it does seem like bait and that could put some viewers off. It isn’t, it is a film that comes straight from the heart and well worth seeing.