Pain and Glory (Pedro Almodóvar, 2019)
What’s this all about?
A renowned film director coming to terms with his life makes a movie about a renowned film director coming to terms with his life.
It’s My Life (and I Cry If I Want to)
They say that when you read fiction, you get to know two different lives: the one of the main character and the one of the author. Because, even though some writers will deny any sign of personal experience in their works, it’s inevitable to reveal something about themselves in their texts. You can guess Ken Loach’s social concerns or Luis Buñuel’s fetishisms just by watching only one of their movies.
Pain and Glory would be Almodóvar’s most personal movie, but aren’t all of them personal? Bad Education, for example, also had a famous queer director as its protagonist and Volver is clearly inspired by his childhood town.
Autobiographical fiction can help you exorcise your demons, but, careful, because you expose yourself in such a manner that you end up feeling naked in front of a massive and anonymous audience. And who wants that? I’m already embarrassed by showing this blog to my friends and family. There’s a moment when Salvador, Almodóvar’s alter-ego, lets his actor friend Alberto take credit for a play he’s done as he’s afraid people will find out it’s about him. But the text is so honest and true to facts that a member from the audience recognises Salvador straight away. You can’t escape your own history anyhow, Almodóvar says, and that’s why he decided to go all the way.
The acclaimed Spanish director shows his alter-ego with fairness: Salvador is successful but not egocentric, and he’s depressed but doesn’t play the victim. There’s also space for self-criticism. Everyone has their right to tell their own stories, yes, but Almodóvar asks what happens when everyone else is involved? Towards the end, Salvador’s mother reproaches him of including her and her neighbours to his stories, not only without his permission but portraying them as uncultured. She tells him she never liked being in his movies, but in a cruel metafictional twist, Salvador/Pedro ends up making a movie mainly about her.
Towards the end, Salvador finds in cinema a way to make amends with life and Almodóvar finds in Pain and Glory a way to do the same.
If Antonio Banderas is supposed to be playing Pedro Almodóvar, is Asier Etxeandia playing Antonio Banderas? Or is it Leonardo Sbaraglia?
Banderas and Almodóvar hadn’t talked to each other for years, just like Salvador and Alberto. And Banderas moved abroad and started a family just like Federico. I’m not saying that the Spanish actor had problems with drugs or that he’s bi-curious because I'm not an old gossip, but if one of those characters is actually based on him, it would be amazingly meta.
Penélope Cruz plays Almodóvar’s mother and I’d guess Nora Navas is a version of his brother Agustín.
And Cecilia Roth is playing Cecilia Roth.
Salvador is tormented by the guilt of not saving an old lover from his heroin addiction. He writes a text (don’t call it monologue) as a way to exorcise his demons. His actor friend Alberto reads it and convinces Salvador to perform it in an independent theatre. The old lover coincidentally watches the play and manages to contact Salvador. They meet, talk and kiss at the end. After this brief but stirring encounter, Salvador stops smoking heroin and realises he needs help. Pedro Almodóvar closes the circle with the old lover who ended up saving Salvador from his addiction.
This subplot, which takes place in the middle of Pain & Glory, is by far the highlight of the film and one of the most poignant stories Almodóvar has told.
“You were never a good son”.
Jeez. Imagine hearing that from your mother.
Nosy people who prefer autobiographies over gossip programmes.
Some other stray observations
Penélope Cruz and Julieta Serrano play the same character even though they feel like a whole different person. But if one is kind and lively while the other is bitter and brutally honest is not due to inconsistencies within the story, but because age and closeness to death might change the way you see the world.
Where did Alberto go? His character does have a closure, but it feels unsatisfactory that he completely disappears in the last third of the movie as if Almodóvar forgot about him.
That Addiction play looks like a letdown.
Can I admit that when Leonardo Sbaraglia showed up I thought he was playing a younger version of Salvador? The time paradox would have been an awesome story line.
Good companion pieces
Nah, 8½ (1963) is too obvious. Let’s see what else we have…
There are a lot of similarities with Bad Education (2004) and I still prefer it over Pain & Glory for the sole reason than I find Bad Education as the epitome of his filmography. The 2004 production is full of passion, meta-fiction and queer sensibilities.
Olivier Assayas questions in Non-Fiction (2018) if writers should leave their personal life aside in their stories. And in Joe Wright’s Atonement (2007), an author also says sorry through fiction because she didn’t have the chance or guts to do it in person.
In the course of a weekend, the two friends of Career Girls (1997), by Mike Leigh, have plenty of chance encounters with people from the past, just like Salvador, who faces Roberto, meets with Federico and finds Ernesto’s drawing all in a short period of time. Dismissing both movies for of its improbable coincidences is missing the point.
This is, without a doubt, the best performance by Antonio Banderas ever. This comes to show that everyone can be a good actor when there’s an even better director behind. If only Banderas would be more interested in, you know, making better movies…
I would not wear any of those clothes, but Paola Torres’ costume design match perfectly with Almodóvar’s style.
Why am I watching this?
Judging a film by its trailer.
When Salvador says thank you for coming at the end of the trailer, it’s Almodóvar saying thank you for watching. Watch (no English subtitles yet).
For Your Consideration
Best film - Best Director: Pedro Almodóvar - Best Actor: Antonio Banderas - Best Supporting Actress: Penélope Cruz, Nora Navas - Best Actress in a Limited Role: Julieta Serrano - Best Screenplay: Pedro Almodóvar - Best Costume Design: Paola Torres - Best Score: Alberto Iglesias
Dolor y Gloria
Original title: Dolor & Gloria
Directed by Pedro Almodóvar | 2019 | Spain
Main cast: Antonio Banderas, Penélope Cruz, Asier Etxeandia, Nora Navas, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Julieta Serrano, Cecilia Roth, Rosalía, Raúl Arévalo, Asier Flores, César Vicente