By Ali Moosavi.
Pain and Glory is Pedro Almodovar at his most personal and confessional, in the same vein as Bad Education (2004). Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) is a writer-director who has not worked for a number of years. One of his old films has been restored, and he has been invited to its screening. The film brings bitter sweet memories for him. He was not satisfied with the leading actor, Alberto (Asier Etxenandia)’s performance and publicly stated his dissatisfaction at the time. This caused a rift between the two lasting for the 32 years which have passed from the film’s first release. Now Salvador wants to make up with Alberto and attend the screening together.
Almodovar goes through the rollercoaster of emotions that artists experience. The loneliness and depression – taking solace in hard drugs, feeling of not being wanted and rejection by the public and the fans, the need for love and being loved, loss of self-confidence, the ease with which their feelings of love and hate interchanges. In order to dig deep into the character of Salvador, Almodovar takes us back to the territory his childhood: a childhood of poverty but happiness under the wings of a strong mother (Penelope Cruz). Being forced to attend a seminary and learning about art and falling in love with it from the most unusual source of a painter-decorator painting the walls of their ramshackle shanty draws Salvador in his breaks.
Salvador has written a self-confessional piece which Alberto sees and begs Salvador to let him use it in the form of a one-man play. Alberto sees this as an opportunity to make a comeback and Salvador sees it as a bargaining chip to get Alberto to attend the screening. This play/monologue-within-the-film is really a device used by Almadovar to fill the gap between Salvador’s childhood and his present state, to reveal to us some of the events which have caused him to retire from work and take to smoking Heroin. These pieces of jigsaw are neatly brought together in a perfect and memorable ending.
Almodovar has an almost unique ability among current filmmakers to constantly switch between humor and pathos with ease, while staying firmly in control of a strong narrative which is a feature of his films. He also loves accentuating the visual and aural elements, from the colourful photography (Jose Luis Alcaine) to the wall-to-wall music (Alberto Iglesias). The performances, as usual in his films, are uniformly excellent. Special mention must go to Asier Etxenandia who gives the most memorable performance in the film, toeing the thin line between being both a funny and tragic figure with consummate skill. Pain and Glory may not be top-drawer Almodovar, but even his lesser films are better than many other contenders around.
Ali Moosavi has worked in documentary television and has written for Film Magazine (Iran), Cine-Eye (London), and Film International (Sweden). He contributed to the second volume of the The Directory of World Cinema: Iran (Intellect, 2015).