Pain and Glory review – Almodóvar makes it personal

The Spanish auteur offers up more of himself than ever before in this intimate slice of autofiction

Pedro Almodóvar’s films have felt personal – indeed, he has spent the sum of his career taking pieces of his own life and dispersing them throughout his works. Volver mined aspects of his childhood, for example, whilst Broken Embraces was inspired by a personal photograph. For his latest, though, the Spanish filmmaker has delved deeper into himself than ever before to create what is his most overtly personal effort to date, a work of autofiction that feels like a soul being laid bare. Despite the presence of both Antonio Banderas and Penélope Cruz, it’s really Almodóvar who’s the star this time round.

Adapting key moments of his life into a semi-autobiographical portrait, Pain and Glory hones in on – who else? – a Madrid-based filmmaker named Salvador Mallo, played by Antonio Banderas in a career-best performance. Stuck in a creative rut and dealing with several illnesses that are taking a toll on his mental and physical health, things have gotten so bad that the director can’t even swallow without succumbing to violent coughing fits. After an awkward reunion with an actor from one of his earlier movies, Salvador begins to recall his childhood. In flashback, we see Salvador and his mother (Almodóvar regular Penélope Cruz) living in a cave-like home in the Spanish countryside. From this memory, Salvador begins to put his whole life into perspective, unpacking the choices that lead him to the present, from his growing drug use to a get-together with a former lover.

“I can no longer hide,” Almodovar claimed in a recent interview, and this movie works in support of such a statement. Save for the drug use, which the director claims is a fictional addition, the result is an intimate act of self-reflection in which even Salvador’s apartment is rendered as a near-exact replica of Almodovar’s own. Sporting a greying beard and flamboyant fashion sense – all taken from Almodóvar’s own wardrobe, apparently – Banderas dresses to invoke the filmmaker’s distinct look, but the performance – wisely eschewing caricature – still feels nuanced in all the ways that mere impression could not.

Fans of Almodóvar will be sure to appreciate the understated pacing that go hand-in-hand with his overall style, but even newcomers are sure to find there is lots to unpack here – not to mention it offers the perfect excuse to delve into his immense back catalogue, searching for parallels. It goes without saying that Pain and Glory, like most of the director’s films, looks and sounds absolutely gorgeous, too. Credit to cinematographer José Luis Alcaine and composer Alberto Iglesias, then, both Almodóvar regulars, whose work extenuates the various moods of the story using vivid and colourful imagery and a brilliantly melancholy score.

This is easily Almodóvar’s strongest film in years, emphasising his strengths as a writer and director whilst also bringing a more sensitive and thoughtful touch lacking in his recent efforts. It is a work to be relished and poured over, tying together a remarkable body of work. Making Pain and Glory left the filmmaker, in his own words, feeling “emotionally naked.” It isn’t difficult to see why.


By: Jack Martin

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