By: Trevor Chartrand
Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory is a well-crafted melodrama; an emotional piece weighed heavily by its evocation of sadness and regret. The film stars Antonio Banderas as Salvador Mallo, an aging filmmaker who reflects on his past and the mistakes he’s made – mistakes that seem more clear through older, wiser eyes. Almodóvar explores themes of life, love, family, regret, and retribution, all through the lens of the classic mantra: ‘hindsight is 20/20.’
In many ways, this feels like a very personal film for Almodóvar, with the director sharing a few obvious commonalities with his main character. One must wonder if this is an inspection of his life and career, perhaps an artistic representation of his very own stroll down memory lane.
The film is well paced and tightly structured, with a great script that reveals the bare bones of its characters. Now obviously Pain and Glory is more of a character study than a plot-driven film, so there is plenty of room to breathe and really get to know the subjects we’re studying.
As Salvaldor Mallo, Banderas plays the part with an excellent blend of pride and remorse. Being a man with many ailments, he also performs the character’s sickness with the right amount of subtlety; that is to say, the coughing, choking, and stiffness of the character are never overplayed. It’s a stellar performance overall.
The supporting cast is also consistently strong, with a truly stand-out performance from young Asier Flores, who plays Salvador as a child. It’s likely difficult for the young man to interpret some of the themes explored in his scenes, but with a combination of a dedicated young actor and strong direction, the role is pulled off flawlessly. The character is full of joy and optimism and it makes for a powerful contrast with the older man we see throughout most of the film.
The film is shot with vibrant colors and a very matter-of-fact style, giving viewers the true fly-on-the-wall sense of sitting in the room with a series of lavish, ego-driven characters during all of their exploits. The camera takes a backseat to the performances, of course, and the film allows the actors do all of the talking. That is to say, the film is very much carried by its cast.
Pain and Glory explores some melancholic and nostalgic themes, with its hard-hitting message: what may seem important in any given moment is meaningless in the bigger picture; while the things in life that do matter are all too often ignored. However, instead of coming across as a bold call-to-arms for viewers to reconsider their every action, the film’s approach is more of a gentle encouragement for audiences to contemplate where to place their priorities.
Pain and Glory is a bit of a slow burn, but the time it takes to establish and develop its characters is never wasted. The film is subtle and well-structured, with a colorful palette and some very real performances. The film’s contemplative, almost depressing tone may turn some viewers away, but be assured there are silver linings in the film’s final moments. Overall, the combination of cast and direction makes watching Pain and Glory a very powerful, and emotional, viewing experience. I highly recommend it.
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Trevor Chartrand: @OhHaiTrebor