Published Sep 03, 2019Life is convoluted and messy, and that perhaps explains why Pain and Glory's account of an ailing filmmaker is a bit jumbled.
Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) is a retired writer and director who suffers from chronic pain and battles depression from within a fog of painkillers. There's a slightly peculiar CGI passage that illustrates all his illnesses in the form of anatomical diagrams, and numerous scenes feature him struggling to get out of a cab, crushing up a cocktail of medications, or choking while swallowing his own saliva.
There's no clear narrative, as director Pedro Almodóvar instead takes the audience from one aspect of Salvador's life to the next. There are flashbacks from his impoverished childhood (featuring Penélope Cruz as his devoted but slightly prickly mother Jacinta), a dalliance with heroin addiction that's curiously light-hearted (until it isn't), reconciliation with an estranged actor and glimpses of Salvador caring for his mother before her death. In particular, his reunion with an old lover, Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia), is a poignant account of the fleeting nature of some romances.
The film is set in Madrid, but some of the most striking scenes happen in a rural village from Salvador's childhood, where he lives in a cave featuring whitewashed walls and an open courtyard to let in light. It's there he learns his love of language, has his queer awakening and rebels against the prospect of a life in the seminary — which leads to him eventually finding a career in film.
The whole thing is like a series of postcards: memories collected throughout life, filtered through the lens of Salvador's miserable twilight years. It's sometimes funny and mostly pretty grim, but the patient pacing and wistful dialogue give even the bleakest moments a sense of bittersweet beauty. (Mongrel Media)