Pain and Glory

Jacob Richardson | 7/11/2019

Undeniably odd and Amoldovar, but nevertheless an engaging foray into pain, death, addiction, love and loss in an artistically ambitious package.

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Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) is a famous Spanish film director in the midst of a creative block and subsequent decline. Afflicted with a variety of ailments, he can’t bring himself to write and direct another feature. Both his own self, along with the intriguing guiding hands of fate, orchestrate a series of serendipitous reunions with elements of his past; the lead actor from his breakout film, a friendly painter from his childhood, elements of his mother’s personality, and a long lost love. Interspersed amongst this is heroin; something Mallo uses to numb the pain of existence, but also something that inevitably holds him back from addressing the stumbling blocks of his psyche that need to be defeated to enable him to regain his capacity as a director.


Directed by Pedro Amoldovar, Pain and Glory is a deeply affecting tale. The focus on love, loss and regret creates an overwhelming and palpable emotionality that is anchored in an incredibly nuanced performance by Antonio Banderas. Banderas won the Best Actor award at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival for this role, and it isn’t difficult to see why; he is a powerhouse of subtle emotion and reflexivity to the events around him. 


Amoldovar surrounds Banderas’ Mallo with a range of characters whose interactions with the once prolific fictional director are deeply meaningful. Most poignant among these is the relationship with his former lover Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia) and with his mother (Penelope Cruz, in flashbacks). Banderas and Sbaraglia bring an intimacy and tenderness to their relationship that makes the subtlety of their mutual parting, after a reconciliation only so soon beforehand, all the more painful. Similarly, Cruz brings an aura of motherly adoration out through dialogue almost intensely focused on the negative - it’s a realistic depiction that crafts more believability. 


Set and art design also take precedence in Pain and Glory. Mallo’s flashbacks to his hometown and sun-soaked, limestone caves and flowing dresses drenched in river water. It’s a picturesque image of older Spain, and perfectly contrasted by the take on the modern spain. Modern spain, in Pain and Glory, is still undeniably colour filled, but in a more retro-modern, garish way that conveys contemporaneity without ever actually providing something modern-ly beautiful. It crafts a sense of unease, as if the entire film is an impressionistic painting built on the most primary of colour palettes. 


Pain and Glory isn’t perfect. Partially this comes down to the pacing, with the flippancy of early scenes dragging when compared with the engrossing, yet always amicable, drama of the later story. Further, it isn’t a movie for everyone, and you can imagine that the big budget blockbuster fans who see one or two movies a year will be up in arms if they mistakenly catch this bad boy on their local screens. But nevertheless, for those willing to give it a chance, Pain and Glory is a moving tribute to the pain of loss and love, and the interrelationship between professional and creative glory, and the ups and downs of personal triumphs. 


Pain and Glory is a worthy addition to Amoldovar’s filmography.