In a semi-autobiographical infusion of beauty and truth about artistic creation, Pedro Almodóvar crafts the sensitive, humorous, and profound Pain and Glory. The film stars the brilliant Antonio Banderas, who won the Best Actor Award at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. Also, Penelope Cruz portrays his mother in the flashback segments of the film. In the role she reveals her versatility and breadth as an actress.
With quietude and reserve, Banderas depicts the charming, restrained director Salvador Mallo. At the opening of the film, Almodóvar introduces his protagonist through Banderas’ voice over narration. Through visual illustrations Banderas’ Mallo discusses injured areas of his body. And these create havoc with the pain centers in his mind. Indeed, the agony upends his daily comfort and life-style. Finally, it destroys his desire to write and make films.
Because Mallo’s debilitating back problems have curtailed his creativity and career, depression, loss and soul displacement fill his days. Though his assistant Mercedes (Nora Navas) helps him, he attempts to adapt but he suffers. Since the process of accommodation cannot be easily achieved through external means, he resorts to pain killers.
With a fine musical score by Alberto Iglesias (Best Composer-Cannes) and illustrative cinematography, Almodóvar highlights Mallo’s struggles. Ethereally, he suggests Mallo’s mind, soul, body connection through Mallo’s life choices. By examining two stories that run parallel, Almodóvar shows the soul’s strife and pairs it with the effect: pain. And he unfolds these stories as a mystery moving from the past in flashbacks to the present.
Uniquely, the filmmaker posits the problem: will Mallo reconcile his creativity despite his miserable physical condition? Secondly, how will he reinvigorate his barren artistic life with novel inspiration? The answer lies in the past in a key event which Mallo must unlock to free himself.
As Almodóvar leads us in flashback to Mallo’s childhood, we begin to understand his traumas and his artistic impulses. The filmmaker introduces us to Mallo’s mother (Penelope Cruz in a fine performance). When they lived in the country, Mallo experienced warmth, love community. As he watches his mother and the women do their clothes washing at the river, the women sing. The lovely simplicity and the sweetness of their joy stirs us. And it bathes the young Mallo’s soul in comfort.
In the present a turning point interrupts the stasis of Mallo’s miserable days. He learns a retrospective of his most successful film will be given, requiring his attendance. To help him he locates Alberto ( Asier Etxeandia) the film star in the lead role. Estranged from Mallo for thirty years, Mallo shocks him. Humorously the two reacquaint. And they disuss and prepare for the film conference. What once divided them, Alberto’s addiction, unites them. As they do cocaine, Mallo finds temporary relief from his pain. Eventually, he scores the cocaine on his own in another humorous interlude.
Though their friendship continues a while, it hits bumpy roads then crashes. However, during this sequence of events, Mallo meets the man who was his first love whom he hasn’t seen for years. In contrast the profound reunion resonates more fully than his meet-up with Alberto. During it, he reestablishes the importance of their love. Vitally, he realizes that it had to end in friendship. Uplifted by the remembrance, he moves toward wholeness and self-revelation.
Inspired by events in Almodóvar’s life, the portrait of Mallo strikes like a complex poem. Intrigued, we follow Mallo’s life from present to past in flashbacks. Carefully crafting them, Almodóvar symbolizes them as defining moments that helped to foment the director’s artistry. Indeed, the events tie in with the subterranean currents that cause his pain. In a fascinating twist, the agony becomes reconciled with an emotional revelation that restores Mallo’s soul and reintroduces his fires of creation.
Also, these tie-in with another flashback. Moving from the country, his mother’s unhappiness becomes acute. Because his father could only find this cheap residence in a cave-like dwelling, we understand their poverty. Rarely does Mallo relate with his father, a meager bread winner who remains in the background.
But Mallo excels in reading. Through her son’s peculiarity, his mother, Jacinta, sees a way to make the cave beautiful. Resourcefully, she obtains the help of a worker and barters Mallo’s reading skills. In fact she encourages Mallo to tutoring the young workman to help him read. In exchange the workman makes the former dark cave bright, beautiful and pure white. And it is in the restored cave that an epiphany occurs connecting Mallo to the world of passion, desire and art.
How Almodóvar brings us through the matrix of convolution and leads us to the director’s self-deliverance is a masterpiece of cinematic storytelling. Strikingly, events occur, long forgotten that Mallo remembers through his creative unconscious made conscious. Finally, these lead Mallo to a reconciliation with himself. As the creative genius sparks, he begins to write again.
Only through self-revelation, introspection and creative upheavals from the unconscious does Mallo achieve grace. As a result he heals spiritually, emotionally and psychically.
Almodóvar’s Dolor y Gloria won four awards and received multiple nominations. For every creative artist, writer, filmmaker, etc., it is a must see. Currently, the film is showing everywhere.