Pain and Glory
Director: Pedro Almódovar
Sony Pictures Classics
In Theatre: 11.04
Closing in on four decades as a filmmaker, the Spanish superstar Pedro Almodóvar pivots toward self-reflection and makes his late-in-life 8 ½. Pain and Glory follows Salvador Mallo, an aging director attempting to come to terms with the barrage of loss and regret that seem to be piling on him in his later years. Played by a reserved Antonio Banderas, Mallo (and in turn, Almodóvar) attempts to navigate a life full of death, addiction, writer’s block and confusion, parsing out how he got to where he is, whether that place is any good and what he could possibly do with the few years he has left.
Instead of Almodóvar’s traditional high-velocity melodramas and sexually charged crimes of passion, Pain and Glory casually roves through a series of scenes (both in the present and in flashbacks from Mallo’s childhood) that unravel the narrative of Mallo’s life. There’s a wistful tenderness in both Almodóvar’s direction and Banderas’ performance, looking at a long life of failed projects, broken relationships and missed opportunities with gratitude. Petty dramas (both professional and romantic) lose their weight over time, and Pain and Glory features a wealth of heart-touching moments of reconciliation between old lovers and estranged collaborators.
Almodóvar has never shied away from an almost overbearing self-consciousness in his films, and Pain and Glory is no different. The film is an autofiction, and the characters are perpetually trying to unpack the limits, morals and entertainment value of such a genre of film. Rather than wallow in cleverer-than-thou postulating, Almodóvar’s narrative feels legitimately concerned with justifying its own existence. Is it admissible to create a fictionalized version of a dead family member, knowing all the while that you’ll never capture their totality? What if such a character is the only way you can cope with an untimely loss?
This stiller, more serious tone and medium-obsessed philosophizing might turn away some of Almodóvar’s adrenaline-hungry fans. The film’s pace and direction often feel as if Almodóvar is figuring things out in parallel with both his characters and his audience. Still, Almodóvar has always been a master wrangler of winding narratives, and Pain and Glory eventually coheres into one of the most jaw-dropping metafictional twists the director has pulled off to date. –Connor Lockie