The newest Pedro Almodóvar movie, Pain and Glory, focuses on an aging and debilitated filmmaker, Salvador Mallo (played by Antonio Banderas) reflecting on his life in his old age. Coming from a small rock home in a village in Valencia and making his way to the top in the 80s through the present in Madrid, Salvador is at last, in a decline. He found that pouring his life, including all his joy and all his depression into his work was the key to his success, but nothing has jump-started him to make movies in years. With the 30-year anniversary of his biggest film coming up, Salvador reminisces on the past and his current physical and mental ailments.
Almodóvar is one of my all-time favorite directors, and it solely be for his absolutely realistic characters. Each character, from the little side ones to the main stars are incredibly real. Each one has a history to them told visually, through their language, through their actions, and virtually every mannerism. I swear, it’s not just because of my ties to Spain; those being that my mother and most of that side of the family are Spaniards, and that I have lived in Spain.
Just like every Almodóvar movie, this is gorgeously shot (good Lord, the COLORS), well-cast, and has a good story running for it. Is it his top film? No, but it doesn’t really need to be. It just needs to be exactly what it is, if that makes sense.
I think another major reason I’m so tied to Almodóvar is because his movies are just so…Spanish. You know how Spielberg movies feel really American or Michael Bay films feel so…’Murican? Well, Almodóvar movies absolutely capture Spain to a level that few American directors capture even the USA. It never feels like I’m watching a movie, it just feels like I’m watching people’s lives. Every last detail is so accurate-the homes, the charisma and bluntness of the Spaniards, the slang, the approach towards class, gender, and identity, and so on. It’s simply spellbinding.
Beware of minor spoilers from here on out, if you want to go in blind, simply read my last paragraph.
At any rate, if that’s how accurately Almodóvar captures that essence of Spain, imagine how well that skill translates to everything else. Almodóvar is himself gay, and many of his films touch on sexual identity, romance, LGBTQ issues, etc. And I truly think that, as a straight guy, Almodóvar’s films have helped me better understand the turmoil, anxiety, and pride that can emerge from that. And frankly, I’m impressed. I somewhat feel that this connects so well to Spain, so I assume Almodóvar might touch members of the LGBTQ community in the same way, and that’s an incredible gift. And on top of that, this movie also captures the struggles of being an artist, of being a filmmaker! It’s incredible that there’s so much going on, but it simply feels natural throughout its run time, as just a very engaging story. Isn’t that Spain for you? You might be there for months, years, or you talk to a Spaniard for 10 hours, but it only feels like 5 minutes in hindsight.
Some of the best Almodóvar moments are in this movie. Absolutely flooring emotional scenes are abundant here. So, if the whole product isn’t as strong as some other of his films, Almodóvar has provided some absolutely spellbinding scenes in this.
There’s this incredible monologue performance, performed by another character acting as Banderas’ character, Salvador, in this, and that actor, Asier Etxeandia, absolutely nailed it. I was so removed that instead of remembering that I was watching a movie, I felt like I was in an audience watching a brilliant play. There’s also this incredible scene where Salvador meets up again with the love of his life, and even though they’re at different points in their lives that it couldn’t work and had a bad fallout years ago, the chemistry, the love, the spark is still there. That was eerie to witness. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a solid, such a raw portrayal of “that connection” that you might find with a human one day. Only people that have been there will ever understand or fully appreciate that scene, I think. But anyone who hasn’t still knows exactly what is going on. That’s movie making at its best. Touch some people, make everyone understand the situation and be engaged. Just bring your passion, make it known, and it’ll pay off, it shows.
In terms of diversity, I would say this was a solid movie. There was one of maybe 5–10 on screen gay kisses (in major released movies) I have seen in my life, and 1 of only 2 in the entire year (the other being Rocketman). And it wasn’t just a peck on the lips, this was a passionate, loving kind of kiss, like you would see with any straight couple on the big screen. As I said previously, Almodóvar is pretty good about representation of LGBTQ people in his films, and this did a stellar job on the “G”. It doesn’t portray being gay in a negative light by any means, it simply is. That is to say, yes this man is gay, yes it affects his life, but no, it is not his only defining trait. On top of that, the women in Salvador’s life are also a critical component, especially his mother (played by Penélope Cruz) and their mother-son relationship also has incredible dramatic payoffs that I won’t spoil too much here. It’s not just surface level representation, it’s positive, accurate representation.
So yeah, go check this movie out, if that wasn’t already obvious. I know it’s a drag to read movies with subtitles. I know nuances might be lost if you don’t speak Spanish. And I know it’s hard to find foreign films. But thankfully, Almodóvar is a pretty well-known auteur director, so it shouldn’t be impossible. I don’t really have any complaints here, only praise. Almodóvar is the best Spanish filmmaker for a reason, and one of history’s best as well. The guy inspired Wes Anderson, so what does that tell ya?
PS: The kid playing a young Antonio Banderas freaked me out. That was a little TOO accurate to Banderas’ mannerisms.
Author: Rafael A. Sarmiento, originally published [11/30/2019] for Incluvie