Movie Reviews: Pain and Glory

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Director: Pedro Almodóvar

Writer: Pedro Almodóvar

by Jason Koenigsberg

Almodovar’s Pain and Glory is his most autobiographical film to date. It lives up to the title with the main character, a filmmaker, being put through agony and ecstasy as he reflects on his life. Antonio Banderas is more than game for this difficult role and he carries the movie in every single frame with his weathered and downtrodden appearance. This is a humble role for him and about as far off as he has acted from the sex symbol he played years ago. This is his most retrained and nuanced performance and the movie could not have worked without his deep dedication. 

Pain and Glory opens up with credits and the title cards are over a colorful background that sways like waves in a pool. We then see our main character (Banderas) and his introduction shows him underwater with his eyes closed, isolated and alone, reminiscent of a famous moment from The Graduate (1967). That shot then fades to another image of water as the viewer sees women washing clothes in a stream. This is a movie about memories and how they flow in our minds like water and sometimes how they wash over us, cleanse us, or consume us to the point we may feel like we are drowning. The film blends seamlessly between flashbacks of the filmmaker as a child and scenes with him as an adult. Banderas is basically playing Almodovar, a homosexual filmmaker who is struggling to find a reason to continue to make movies after the death of his mother and his own declining health. He also deals with mental health issues and suffers from depression as well. Pedro Almodovar’s films have always contained strong women and show a particular affection for the tireless work of his mother. His Oscar winning All About My Mother (1999) was a tribute to all of the loving mothers in the world. Pain and Glory continues with that theme illustrating a hardworking mother raising her appreciative son and is honest with herself about his successes and failures. 

Antonio Banderas owns this movie and makes the character easy to relate to with his tender and heartfelt performance. It is understandable why audiences fell in love with him at Cannes where he won Best Actor. Banderas even has his hair spiked up the way Almodovar often wears his. This is not a thinly guised autobiographical film, or ‘autofiction’ as they term it in the movie. The only other actor that could have played this part would have been Javier Bardem and he may have brought an extra level of gravitas to the role. Banderas lends joy and humor to the film during scenes that could have been more dark and depressing instead felt a lightness that made Pain and Glory easier to digest and not as heavy duty as it could have been. Banderas runs the gamut of emotions fitting with the movies title but he never goes overboard when a lesser actor might have. All the supporting performances around him are terrific as well. Pain and Glory tells an eloquent tale about a life fully lived even though the main character feels hollow. It creates a man who is very easy to relate to through all of his weaknesses, regrets, addictions, and heartbreak. The final shot of Pain and Glory is one of the best moments from any film this year, reiterating the films ‘autofiction’ theme and about how maybe we all have the power to direct our own lives as it blends fact with fiction and cinema with reality. 


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