“Pain and Glory” Movingly Reunites Pedro Almodóvar And Antonio Banderas


Throughout his career, filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar has explored a number of ideas over and over again. His cinematic obsession has defined him, arguably fueling what makes him one of the greats. This week, the legend not only reunites his his longtime male muse Antonio Banderas, but turns his lens on himself in a way with Pain and Glory, the closest thing to an autobiography you’re likely to see from the man. While not at the pinnacle of his filmic output, this is still very fine work, with a tremendous lead performance at its core. In some ways, it’s the film he’s been building up towards making for years.

The movie is a drama, one that takes a number of cues from the filmmaker’s life. Here, we follow Salvador Mallo (Banderas), a film director in failing health, as he thinks back on a number of encounters/moments from his past. There’s his childhood in the 1960s, especially in relationship to his mother Jacinta (Penélope Cruz), the initial pangs of love he felt as a boy, the way those came forward in a new way during early adulthood in the 1980s, as well as when writing/cinema came forth to provide him a means of expression. These thoughts percolate in Salvador’s mind as, in the present, he deals with medical issues, a celebration of his movies, and the distinct possibility that he’s alone in this world. In digging in and examining the past, not only might he find some answers, but it’s a form of therapy too, easing his mind during this later stage of his life. If the story sounds less plot based and more about moments, well, that’s what is being attempted here. A man’s salvation, nothing more and nothing less. Almodóvar writes and directs, with cinematography by José Luis Alcaine, along with a score from Alberto Iglesias. Supporting players rounding out the cast include Asier Etxeandia, Nora Navas, Cecilia Roth, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Julieta Serrano, and a handful more.

Antonio Banderas has never been better than he is here. The connection he has with Almodóvar is clear, moving, and utterly effective. It’s a tender performance, one that only gets better as the film goes on. Unsurprisingly, the Cannes Film Festival feted him with their Best Actor prize, which was well deserved. This is unlike anything Banderas has ever attempted previously, even though prior collaborations like The Skin I Live In have seen him do top notch work. The trust that he and Almodóvar have in each other helps to make this the sort of transformative performance that rightly gets Oscar buzz.

Pain and Glory is a love letter to the themes that Almodóvar has explored his entire career, as well as the medium itself. He’s made a movie about why he makes movies, essentially. Even if this isn’t strictly about his mother, this is also about the impact of his mother, with the added bonus of Penélope Cruz showing up for a bit to play the younger version. It’s almost unthinkable that a cumulative work like this wouldn’t have her, so even if the two don’t share any scenes, it’s clear that the director wanted them both involved. Even with the occasional misstep that drags out its almost two hour running time, the passion that the director has for this story comes through in every frame.

This weekend, fans of Almodóvar and Banderas can see one of their finest works together when Pain and Glory opens. A likely Academy Award contender in Best Actor for Banderas and in Best International Feature, this is going to be one of the biggest foreign works of 2019. Beyond the acclaim, the Cannes award, and whatever happens with Oscar, this is just a quality flick. Give it a shot and you’ll understand why.


Be sure to check out Pain and Glory, in theaters tomorrow!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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