Cannes Film Festival: Pain and Glory (2019)

In the very personal and revealing Pain and Glory (Dolor y Gloria) award-winning director Pedro Almodóvar looks back on his life, loves and passion for films.

All About Me

by Alexa Dalby

Dolor y Gloria

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Pain and Glory portrays Almodóvar‘s avatar Salvador (Antonio Banderas) as a film director who can no longer make films, an ageing recluse riddled with ailments, depression and hypochondria. Prompted by a forthcoming retrospective of his work, at which he is invited to make a rare appearance – though maybe he won’t actually show up – he contemplates his life. His trains of thought prompt flashbacks from his childhood, significant events in his life leading right up to the present.

In idyllic pastoral scenes from his childhood as women wash clothes in a country river, a radiant Penelope Cruz plays Salvador’s loving mother. His father is a colder figure who is mainly absent. The family are very poor. Salvador is a clever child, which sets him apart. We see the awakening of his sexuality as a boy.

As he goes through life, we see his coming out as gay and his relationships – emotional but ultimately unsuccessful – and his passion for filmmaking. After many years of estrangement he contacts the crazy drug-smoking actor he feuded with (Asier Etxeandia), who goes on to play him in a staged monologue on addiction. There’s a very moving scene with an old lover (Leonardo Sbaraglia) that draws on deep wells of tenderness, hurt and regret, all now years in the past. So too are the scenes with his mother, played, near the end of her life, by Julieta Serrano. We see how important she was for him throughout his life. Nora Navas, however, as his assistant, strives to keep him on some kind of even keel.

The colour palette of the film is typically bold and strident in Almodóvar’s colour-saturated Spanish reds and blacks, with flashes of bright blue water as a recurring image. It tells its own beautiful story.

Almodóvar seems to make himself transparent through the persona of Salvador. Pain and Glory is a compelling film which makes us sympathise with a complex, sensitive human being, his loves, friendships and regrets, who missed so much of life, yet created so much. It’s the director’s late-career attempt to understand the wellsprings of his inspiration so far and it’s to be hoped that it’s not the almost valedictory it seems to be.

Pain and Glory premiered at the Cannes Film Festival 2019, where Antonio Banderas went on to finally win the Best Actor award.

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