Pain and Glory Review
Pedro Almodóvar's 'Pain and Glory' is the filmmaker's most personal movie...and his least interesting.
Release Date: October 18, 2019
MPAA Rating: R
A film director reflects on the choices he’s made in life as past and present come crashing down around him.
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Screenwriter: Pedro Almodóvar
Producer: Agustin Almodóvar, Ricardo Marco Bude, Ignacio Salazar-Simpson
Cast: Antonio Banderas (Salvador Mallo), Asier Etxeandia (Alberto Crespo), Lenonardo Sbaraglia (Federico Delgado), Nora Navas (Mercedes), Julieta Serrano (Jacinta), Cesar Vicente (Eduardo), Asier Flores (Salvador Mallo), Penelope Cruz (Jacinta), Cecilia Roth (Zulema), Susi Sanchez (Beata), Raul Arevalo (Venancio Mallo)
Editor: Teresa Font
Cinematographer: Jose Luis Alcaine
Production Designer: Antxon Gomez
Casting Directors: Eva Leira, Yolanda Serrano
Music Score: Alberto Iglesias
For as stylistically similar as his movies are, filmic auteur Pedro Almodóvar tends to play with genre quite well. His last three movies were the fringe horror flick The Skin I Live In, the quirky comedy I’m So Excited!, and the nail-biting mystery Julieta. Now, with Pain and Glory, he may have made his most personal film yet.
Pain and Glory is about an aging filmmaker named Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas from Knight of Cups) whose physical ailments have kept him from doing the one thing that he loves most – making movies. For the thirtieth anniversary of Salvador’s most famous movie, he is invited to sit on a panel with its star, an actor named Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia from Ma ma) with whom he has had a minor feud. Reconnecting with Alberto drudges up memories of Salvador’s childhood, and the memories are amplified when Alberto talks Salvador into letting him perform an autobiographical monologue that he has written called “Addiction.”
It’s not hard to see Almodóvar in the character of Salvador Mallo. The pain and addiction may be dramatized, and the childhood memories may be exaggerated, but there is a definite autobiographical angle to Pain and Glory. The narrative is slow and methodical, and the whole production has the atmosphere of being very important to its creator.
Which is why it’s a bit sad that it’s not more interesting. Pain and Glory almost seems like an unfinished movie, just a series of episodic vignettes about a filmmaker-in-crisis taking place over two separate timelines, the hero reliving his past while trying to cope with his present. It’s a frustrating watch, because there are several places in the movie where it almost clicks, but then everything just quietly slips back into its rut.
To his credit, Almodóvar does pull everything together in the end. As in, the very last scene – actually the last shot – brilliantly makes sense of most of what the audience has seen over the previous couple of hours. But, by then, it seems like an afterthought. Or possibly that Almodóvar came up with the ending and faked his way through the rest of the movie to get there. Either way, it’s not enough to save the narrative.
Fans of Pedro Almodóvar’s movies are going to see Pain and Glory, and they’re probably even going to enjoy it. But even they will have to admit that it’s not one of his more interesting movies. It will offer a glimpse into his inner workings, however, and that may be enough to keep his audience satisfied until his next movie.
It goes without saying that Pedro Almodóvar knows how to make a great looking movie, and Pain and Glory does look great. The director utilizes his usual director of photography José Luis Alcaine (who has also shot the seventies horror flicks Who Can Kill a Child? and Devil’s Exorcist), and together, the pair comes up with a visual palette that is very…Almodóvarian. The character of Salvador lives in darkness and isolation, but is surrounded by color, and Alcaine’s photography walks the line between flamboyance and restraint very well. Everything is visible and in-focus, so the audience sees Salvador’s world almost better than he does. And that’s not even mentioning the subtle differences in lighting and tone for the childhood scenes, differences that become more and more important as the film goes on. The cinematography in Pain and Glory reveals just as much about its lead character as the film’s acting and writing does.