Pain and Glory (2019)

This Cannes Jury Award winner is regarded as a semi-autobiographical film by director Pedro Almodovar which also fetched Best Actor Award for Antonio Banderas at Cannes and nominations at Golden Globe and Academy Awards, along with numerous wins and nominations at other film festivals

2/17/20246 min read

Antonio Banderas and Julieta Serrano in Pain and Glory
Antonio Banderas and Julieta Serrano in Pain and Glory

Spanish, 114 mins, 2019

Director: Pedro Almodovar

Cast: Antonio Banderas, Penelope Cruz, , Asier Etxeandia, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Nora Navas, Julieta Serrano, Susi Sanchez

Awards: Won Best Actor (Antonio Banderas), Soundtrack award (Alberto Iglesias), Queer Palm and Nominated for Palme d’Or, Cannes Film Festival, 2019; Won Prix du Jury and Best Actor, International Cinephile society Awards, 2019; Won Best Actor and Best Production designer, and Nominated for Best European Film, Best Director and Best Screenwriter, European Film Awards, 2019; Nominated, Best Actor and Best International Feature Film, Academy Awards, 2020; Best Actor- Drama and Best Foreign Language Film, Golden Globe Awards, 2020.

Right at the outset we are told about Salvador Mallo’s (Antonio Banderas) physical ailments and emotional turmoil, with lots of graphics. Salvador is a celebrated film director who because of these very reasons is now almost retired. He reminisces, “…on the nights where several aches coincide, I believe in God and I pray, and on the days when I have only one kind of pain, I am an atheist”. This comment tells a lot about Salvador’s journey so far in life.

The film starts when Salvador, as a child, accompanies his mother Jacinta (younger mother played by Penelope Cruz) most of the times as his father is away, working in different city. This brings him closer to his mother, a bond that is shared till her death. Both mother and child eventually come to live with his father in Paterna, leaving Madrid. Salva, as he is referred to by his mother and others, is shown as a bright child who reads writes and later even teaches an adult how to read and write.

Through an acquaintance, he is admitted to a religious school since they do not have money to pay for his education. Child rebels and says that he doesn’t want to be priest. He can drop out later, reasons his mother. Pedro Almodovar too was admitted to a religious school with the hope that he might become a priest someday. Through a series of flashbacks, the audience is invited into Salvador's past, witnessing pivotal moments that have shaped his identity and artistic vision.

Present day, Salvador is invited for the screening of one of his old but now restored film, ‘Flavor’ along with lead actor of that film Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia). The problem is that Salvador hasn’t seen Alberto in past 32 years. This was because Alberto had started taking heroin and had botched up his performance according to Salvador. To make amends, Salvador visits him. Reluctant Alberto lets Salvador in and Salvador tells him about the invite. Alberto is still using Heroin. Watching him, Salvador too wishes to try. He goes into sleep after first fag remembering about his childhood. He gets hooked on and starts using too to alleviate his recurring backpain.

On the screening day, both Alberto and Salvador end up smoking heroin together and not attending the screening. However, they attempt to address the Q & A session over mobile phone. During the session, a question about reason of their break up after the film thirty years back brings back those dormant emotions and Salvador ends telling audience how he thought Alberto had squandered the role because he started taking heroin during the shoot, in front of Alberto. Alberto is livid and leaves in anger.

To kind of apologize, Salvador goes back to meet Alberto once again offering him the write-up called ‘Addiction’ written by Salvador and that Alberto had liked when he had visited Salvador’s house few days back on screening day. Alberto is keen for that script because he wants to get back to acting and this monologue, he thinks is perfect, for his comeback. Alberto asks Salvador to direct which he declines. Alberto stages the play to a packed audience. After the show, a gentleman named Federico visits him. Federico, he informs is the person about whom the play is written and remembers clearly each and every incident the monologue recounted. As we guess by now, Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia) was Salvador’s partner then, who was addicted to drugs. Alberto informs Salvador about it after Federico leaves. Same night, Federico calls Salvador and visits him. Salvador is visibly happy and is genuinely glad to see him. Federico tells him that he had gone to Buenos Aires, Argentina to get rid of this addiction and now lives there with his wife and two adult sons. How did come to see play then, enquires Salvador. Just by coincidence as he wanted to visit their house and the theatre was located nearby. Both talk about days gone by and take each other’s leave.

The next phase talks about Salvador’s complex but very warm relationship with his mother (Aged mother played by Julieta Serrano). Complex because she recounts, she wanted to come and live with him when he is young and travelling for filming but he didn’t allow her, citing lifestyle reasons. But as grows old, he looks after his aging mother till her death.

So the film essentially is divided in three phases-one where we learn about Salvador’s ailments and present day condition, second when we learn about his relationship with Federico during his earlier days and last phase with his aging mother. The flashbacks of Salvadore’s childhood and his days with aging mother too are placed so beautifully in old fashioned way that they smoothly entwine in the film letting us discover Salvadore’s character bit by bit. Antonio Banderas delivers a career-defining performance as Salvador Mallo, infusing the character with vulnerability, depth, and nuance. Banderas effortlessly captures Salvador's inner turmoil, portraying the complexities of his emotional journey with remarkable authenticity. His portrayal is both captivating and deeply moving, earning him widespread acclaim.

The supporting cast also delivers standout performances, with Penélope Cruz shining in the role of Salvador's mother, Jacinta. Cruz brings a sense of warmth and authenticity to her character, elevating every scene she inhabits. Asier Etxeandia delivers a compelling performance as Alberto, imbuing the character with a mix of charm, humor, and pathos. For a brief period Leonardo Sbaraglia appears as Federico delivers superb performance. Overall a very warm and honest account by Pedro Almodovar, I must say.

About The director, Pedro Almodovar

Born in September, 1949 in ‘Calzada de Calatrava’, a small town in Spain, Pedro Almodovar belonged to a family who had no connection to films or cinema. His father was a winemaker and his mother was a transcriber who used to read and write letters for illiterate people. Pedro himself was sent to a religious boarding school in the city of ‘Caceres’ in western Spain, with the hope that he might grow up to become a priest. As fate would have it, Almodovar learnt more at the lone cinema theatre in ‘Caceres’ than from the priests in his school.

He moved to Madrid in 1967 and started doing odd jobs. He later joined as an administrative assistant with a Spanish phone company where he would require to work only till three in the noon. With rest of the day free, he indulged in theatre and cultural gatherings. This continued for almost twelve years. He started writing articles, short stories, comic strips for various magazines and newspapers.

At the age of 22 years, from his first paycheck from the telephone company, he bought a Super 8 mm camera and began to make short films. Curiously, these shorts were centered around sexual themes and had no soundtrack. So Almodovar used to take these to bars and other parties with a recorded audio cassette as the soundtrack and he himself would voice the dialogues for characters in his shorts. This continued for four years and he became quite famous in Madrid. He made his first long feature in 8 mm in 1978 titled, ‘Fuck me, Fuck me, Fuck me, Tim’.

Almodovar made his first feature in 16 mm, ‘Pepi, Luci, Bom’ in 1980 and blew it on 35 mm for release. The film was an amateur’s attempt at filmmaking who had not learnt filmmaking at any institute and hence lot of flaws. But the film was discussed because of its sexual freedom, humour and explicit scenes. The film was premiered at native San Sebastian International Film Festival in 1980 and despite unfavourable reviews from critics developed a cult following. His second feature ‘Labyrinth of Passion’ also having sexual undertones. This was the first film where he collaborated with actor Antonio Banderas. Thereafter he continued to make films like ‘Dark Habits’ (1983), ‘Matador’ (1986) and ‘Law of Desire’ (1987).

In 1988, Almodovar made ‘Women on the verge of nervous breakdown’, a film which can be called as major commercial and critical success, nationally and internationally both. It was premiered at the Venice Film Festival and won ‘Best Screenplay’ award there. Later, it was nominated as ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ at BAFTA, Golden Globe and Academy Awards.

Almodovar’s films by now were recognized as outrageous, funny and one with more female cast. So far (2023) he has made 22 full length feature films along with numerous shorts which received umpteen awards at various film festivals across the globe. His present film, ‘Pain and Glory’, is a kind of semi-autobiographical film which was named as ‘Best Film of 2019’by TIME magazine. ‘The Guardian’, UK ranked it at no. 10 on its list of ”50 best films of 2019”.