Creative artists get to be self-indulgent. And why not!? To be honest with the tender moments of one’s past and to be saddened by memorable regret is easily relatable. In “Pain and Glory”, Pedro Almodovar shares his psyche, his love of red and yellow, and his alter ego, the movie director Salvador Mallo ( Antonio Banderas). Banderas has never been better. We see him submerged in a pool with his arms out-stretched from his sides. In an almost yoga meditation, he invites us to observe his heart surgery scar and his past. Banderas becomes another as only a grand actor can.
We watch him wince in pain when he is not floating in water or with drugs that sooth. Banderas has a face that can deliver great depth of feeling. He uses the crinkled eye, the up-turned lip, and the deadened stare to deliver a life circle of emotions. A mother he may have disappointed, a lover, who disappointed him, and passages that bring the “ pain and glory” to our existence.
Flashbacks abound. His mother, Jacinta, ( Penelope Cruz) is held in high esteem. With her women friends, she sings and scubs linens at the river. Idyllic, sun-drenched -squares-of-white mesh with playfulness and ivory-floating bars of soap. Castanets and music and women’s camaraderie evoke Bizet’s “Carmen”.
Themes of kindness and loyalty hold deep in the screenplay. These qualities bind a fulfilling relationship. Old age symptoms of sciatica, depression, tinnitus, and stiff joints mix with old gossip. Drug use and addiction are interspersed with cartoon like flow charts of Mallo’s ailments. Time weaves in and out with childhood and younger self flashbacks. Asier Flores plays Salva as a child. He is lovely except for the scene where he is directed to fall in ecstasy after seeing a grown workman taking a sponge bath in his kitchen. The fever of homoeroticism looked more like a stubble on the stone floor. Asier seemed way too young for any sexual awakening, sorry.
In the present time, Salvador Mallo is forced to give a retrospective of an earlier film. He must track down his old leading man, Alexandro ( Asier Etxeandia ) . They have fought and loved before. Here, they reunite and use heroin as their crutch. Another former lover, Frederico ( Leonardo Sbaraglia ) comes to Madrid. As Mallo’s housekeeper states: ” Everything here is strange.” This may not be a film for everyone, but Banderas is marvelous as the aging artist in self-reflection.
Humor, longing , and respect for a meaningful existence make an aging man content and in many ways in awe of both the pain and the glory of being a creative creature on earth.