Pain and Glory is more than the title of Pedro Almodóvar’s 2019 film, and more than a simple dichotomy; it is a consistent motif that in the film and is probably the most succinct way to describe human existence, not to mention the highs and lows of creating art. This concept runs through the film’s veins, and unsurprisingly, Spanish stalwart Antonio Banderas creates a complex and detailed depiction of his director, his haunted character is the beating heart of this passionate film.
A successful director in the past, Salvador Mallo has stopped writing films for a number of reasons, most due to his health. But he has also lost the will to create, the glory of completing a project, seeing it succeed, has vanished. Pain is now all he feels.
In an oddly effective animated sequence, he narrates the numerous ailments that have stolen his creative spirit and his ability to complete a film. The list of his problems is extensive, which certainly put my own problems into perspective. Most crippling for him is back-pain and extreme headaches that force him to sit in darkness, wearing sunglasses.
It is a cruel twist in his life after such success as a filmmaker, he now experiences little more than constant pain. “I am miserable not rolling” he muses at one stage, but his body refuses to allow it, which in turn has affected his spirit.
A slither of glory manifests itself via a phone call from ‘The Film Library’, who consider a film of his to be a classic. They want Salvador to co-present the screenings with the lead actor, Alberto Crespo. It seems they don’t know that Salvador hasn’t spoken to Alberto in over 30 years since the film was released. He has held a grudge against Alberto for this long simply because when shooting the film, Alberto was taking heroin, essentially the opposite of what Salvador wanted for the character, who was written as a cocaine addict. This infuriated Salvador so much that he admits he wanted to kill him, and three decades have flown by without any contact.
Having held a grudge for so long over a relatively trivial matter quietly tells us the type of man Salvador is: stubborn, and a perfectionist regarding the films he made. This grudge he holds shows us his obsession with making films, an obsession that has been taken away from him.
The offer means that he must go see Alberto to ask if he will present the film with him, after 30 years. Understandably, Alberto isn’t exactly happy to see him, but eventually invites him in as the two reminisce about the the past. Alberto brings out some heroin, or ‘horse’, telling Salvador that he can do it in a different room if he wants. Unexpectedly, Salvador asks if he can try it for the first time. After smoking some, he closes his eyes and lies back. These are often moments where we see scenes of Salvador as a young, intelligent child capable of teaching people how to read and write, painting a picture of the type of child he was.
Heroin is an opiate, like most painkillers. He finds that it calms his crippling headaches, but of course this is why it is so easy to become an addict, as they numb the pain that makes life a miserable existence, both physically and mentally. It soon becomes a very real worry that Salvador will find himself in this position.
This strand of the film is just one part of a final act that is memorable and extremely emotional. Revelations of his young adulthood hook the viewer, as this is a period of his life that hasn’t been explored. It is incredibly powerful; Pain and Glory must be the most moving drama of 2019. Pedro has crafted one of his best films, if not the best, in his long career. We can only pray that it isn’t his final creation given the direction of the film.
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