Pedro Almodóvar’s latest film is a masterpiece that balances the personal with the relatable
How do you make a film about yourself? Perhaps the better question is: why? Why would you decide to bare your soul and depict your flaws, vulnerabilities, pain and reflections to a global audience?
Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory manages to be both autobiographical and relatable, a film that is so personal yet will touch audiences everywhere especially those who’ve gone through grief, loss and regret. It is a film of immense impact, deep sadness and hopeful optimism all at once, a feature that lingers in your mind long after the credits roll.
Featuring a fantastic Antonio Banderas as Pedro himself (he is never named as Pedro in the film and is rather given a fictional name Salvador Mallo), the film retraces Almodóvar’s personal story from childhood to present. Rather than choosing to reflect on his successful career full of prizes and successes, Salvador follows a path of humility and honesty – recounting his personal struggles, contemplations and reflections without glorifying himself or exaggerating in depicting his pain. It’s a carefully-measured film that manages to be supremely profound, highly relatable and most importantly totally believable because of its authenticity and universal themes. Audiences abroad will surely relate to themes of nostalgia, grief and pain – and the film sends an important message on how crucial it is to come to terms with the past in order to be able to move forward – especially for writers for whom writing can sometimes be the ‘only way to forget,’ as the film notes – to release suppressed memories, tormenting pain and un-erasable moments.
Salvador is going through a semi-retirement phase. He still loves making films but his physical condition makes it very hard for him to pursue his passion. As he reflects on his life and childhood, flashes from the past come forward to haunt him. At the same time, a local mediatheque contacts him asking him to attend a screening of one of his restored works. Soon after, he visits that film’s star whom he had never been in touch with for over thirty years after clashing on set. After some resistance, the actor meets with the director and together they decide to enact a chapter from his real story.
Of all the happenings in his real life, Almodóvar picks two distinct chapters: addiction and first desire. In each, we see moments which have defined him as a person and an auteur, as a successful storyteller and an intimate, secretive observer.
Cutting swiftly and smartly between Salvador’s present and past, several ghosts from the past come back to haunt him: the first desire, the true love, his mother (briefly and beautifully portrayed by Penélope Cruz) and his childhood. In no way do we get to see more about the director’s filmography – Almodóvar is clearly not interested in making a career-spanning autobiography. He goes for the personal, the intimate, the authentic – showing us with great bravery what it’s like to be an artist who can’t forget.
Few directors have been able to tell their own stories with so much passion, honesty and authenticity while checking their ego at the door. But in Pain and Glory, there’s no place but for raw emotions, vivid memories and piercing pain. A magnum opus that breaks your heart – and stays in it.