Pain and Glory (2019)

Movie Info

Movie Info

Pedro Almodóvar
Run Time
1 hour and 53 minutes

VP Content Ratings

Sex & Nudity
Star Rating
★★★★4.5 out of 5
Salvador meets with Alberto to make peace. (c) Sony Pictures Classics

Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, whose films usually center on strong women, draws on aspects of his own life in this story of a faded film director almost despairing of renewing his career. It will come as no surprise that there is a strong woman central to his story, his mother Jacinta, played by Penelope Cruz when he was a boy. Both she and Antonio Banderas, who plays film director Salvador Mallo, are long-time associates of Almodóvar. (Julieta Serrano portrays the elderly mother during her last days.) Apparently to be sure that we get the autobiographical references, Banderas sports a head of spiked hair very much like the real director’s.

The glory in the title is a part of Salvador Mallo’s past when he was Spain’s reigning film director, hailed throughout the film world as a fine artist. The pain is his present, the result of years of abuse or neglect of his body. In his voice-over Salvador tells us he suffers from intense back pain, migraine headaches, muscle aches, joint pains, tinnitus, anxiety, and depression. A series of amusing Saul Bass-like animations illustrate his various ailments, the result being a depression so great that he has no energy for the physical exertion required  to make a film.

When the Madrid cinematheque plans to show the restored version of his old film Sabor, they ask if he and the lead actor Alberto (Asier Etxeandia) would introduce it and lead a Q&A session, He had broken with the actor 32 years ago because Alberto had insisted on his own, rather than the director’s, interpretation of the lead character. Salvador had loathed the film, but now, having viewed it again, he has changed his mind. Through an actress he is able to find the actor, now performing in plays in small theaters, and decides to meet him face to face for a reconciliation.

Alberto is wary at his unexpected visit, but warms up as Salvador explains himself and his mission. Alberto takes out his heroin for a daily dose and is surprised when Salvador agrees to try it. Thus the director adds heroin to the multitude of other drugs he consumes to alleviate his continual pain or to give him energy for the day’s mundane tasks.

As the time for the screening approaches various flashbacks recall the great influence Salvador’s mother and others had had upon him. He recalls being nine years old sitting beside a river where she and older women were singing while washing laundry; his impoverished father moving them into one of a series of white washed caves that had been made into homes for the poor; of a priest picking him as soloist for the parish choir; of arguing with his mother because she wanted him to attend a seminary, the church-sponsored school being the only means a poor child could obtain an education and thus escape poverty. He strongly opposed it because he did not want to become a priest.

It was during his ninth year too that the boy had his first sexual arousement when Eduardo (César Vicente), the handyman, was refurbishing their home. The young man was illiterate, so the precocious boy had been teaching him to read and write in payment for his work. Eduardo had a gift for drawing, and one day he draws on a piece of white-washed cardboard the boy holding one of his ever-present books. One hot day while Jacinta was away, Eduardo stripped off his clothes and was washing his naked body when Salvador saw him. Alarmed at his arousal, the boy faints away, alarming Eduardo, and even more, Jacinta when she returns.

More of Salvador’s past is revealed when his past lover Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia) is in Madrid and contacts him the night before returning to his home in South America. His reconnecting is by what we, though not the skeptical Salvador, might call a providential means. Salvador had a falling out with Alberto, and so to reconcile, he grants the man the rights to make a play out of a very personal story he had written called “Adicción” in which he describes a three year relationship with “Marcelo.” The man had been the love of his life, the two sharing addiction to heroin. Out in the audience Federico, recognizing that he is “Marcello,” looks up Salvador’s phone number and calls him. Hesitant at first, Salvador invites him to come over right away, rather than waiting until the next day. Although he is now in a conventional marriage and a father, Federico recalls fondly their years spent together. The too part fondly, tempted, but not giving in, to renew their passion in a physical way. Their parting kiss is no mere formality.

The director also recalls the dying days of his mother as she gives him instructions for how she wants her body to be laid out for her wake and funeral. Knowing he has let her down in her expectations, he apologizes. They make peace, but she tells him she does not want him to include her in one of his films. How he comes to terms with his mother’s death, his past loves, and faces at last his present physical ailments and gets, as they say, his mojo back, will leave you satisfied, no, pleased as you leave the theater.

Salvador’s faithful assistant Mercedes (Nora Navas) plays a major role in getting her employer back on the right path. In another story, she would probably become his lover, but Salavdor’s queerness precludes that. The latter aspect is not highlighted, though the emotional pull between him and Federico during their brief reunion is palpable. Another tie to his past surfaces when Mercedes discovers at an art exhibition the drawing, now mostly filled in with watercolors, that Eduardo had made years ago. Its fate and the tender note written on its back are heartwarming, as well as casting an unfavorable shadow on Jacinta and her role in her son’s life.

Pain and Glory should impress fans of the Spanish director, as well as win some new ones. (If only Americans could get over their prejudice against subtitles!) Antonio Banderas turns in one of his best performances, and, though her screen time is not very lengthy, Penelope Cruz shines, as always. A real discovery is the young Asier Flores who plays Salvador as a boy! Go and lose yourself for a couple of hours in the story of a spiritually wounded man who finds reconciliation and purpose that removes the obstacles to his creativity.

 No questions for this review.

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