Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Writer: Pedro Almodóvar
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Penélope Cruz, Asier Etxeandia
Genre: Drama / World Cinema
While suffering a creative block, film director Salvador Mallo (Banderas) reflects on the choices he has made in his life as both the past and present come crashing down around him.
Spain’s Pedro Almodóvar has already established himself as a great filmmaker that can make films of varying themes and subjects that examine those said themes and subjects brilliantly (my personal favourite of his recent films is The Skin I live in). His latest is certainly one of his most personal films to date, and one that provides the viewer with deep, unprecedented access to his own subconscious and thought process by giving us a protagonist that is a film director – though Pain and Glory is in no way any kind of biopic piece. However, in Antonio Banderas (an actor he often relies on to portray his most emotionally complex protagonists) Almodóvar allows us to truly empathise with the dark times and the feelings of extreme depression and loneliness that he not only feels but are also a common and universal part of the human condition.
On initial examination Pain and Glory could simply be an examination of ‘first world problems’, but with such an experienced and skilful auteur like Pedro Almodóvar at the helm, there is far more to this film than that; it is brutal, open and honest about internal suffering that is part of the human condition, and not just an exclusive feeling that creative types are allowed to suffer from (as can be the case in films like Knight of Cups). Throughout the narrative Salvador Mallo has experiences or feelings that we can all relate to; he may have all the fame and wealth he needs, but that is all insignificant as he is unable to fulfil his very basic needs; to feel some kind of contentment in life – though he is unsure what or how to fulfil this.
There is no denying that is one of Almodóvar’s most personal films, and one that is about himself and his own personal experiences and dark feelings. Our protagonist is a film director that is haunted by personal memories and regrets, and is currently suffering a creative block. This may all sound very self-indulgent, and indeed it could have easily felt that way as a viewing experience, but crucially Almodóvar brings a rawness and honesty to the narrative which makes it makes it accessible, and allows us to empathise with the protagonist; Most of us may not be famous film directors, but because Mallo’s needs are universal we do empathise with him.
As is usually the case with Almodóvar’s films, Pain and Glory is also visually stunning with every single shot and scene put together with painstaking detail. The usual dominance of primary colours is wonderfully enhanced by José Luis Alcaine’s sublime cinematography, while the set designs themselves (with art often playing a key role) are rich in detail. Regular composer Alberto Iglesias also produces a wonderfully melancholic and often jazz-based score, but (as with all the other elements) it is understated and subtle so as to enhance the narrative’s core themes, without ever feeling overbearing.
As Salvador Mallo, Antonio Banderas is exceptional; he gives an often understated and nuanced performance that captures his character’s internal suffering and loneliness. The film itself has some beautiful scenes of understated emotion, as the film shows scenes from Mallo’s childhood and his relationship with his mother, but also with those that have had the biggest emotional impact no his life. There is also at the heart of the film a very big message that not only applies to those that are blessed with the ability to write films and plays etc, but also all of us; our most raw and personal experiences are what truly creates who we are, and we should never be ashamed of these but only embrace those moments and draw inspiration from them.
One of Almodóvar’s most personal films so far is also one of his most powerful and engaging; Pain and Glory is a raw and unforgettable examination of both the creative process of a filmmaker, but crucially also of the human condition.