PAIN AND GLORY sees director Pedro Almodovar still in peak form in this highly personal film about a successful filmmaker, Salvador (Antonio Banderas) in his autumn years. A revival screening of an old movie, “Sabor” with the invitation for him and his main actor to attend a Q &A awakens skeletons in the closet. The film intercuts his life as a child with his loving mother (Penelope Cruz) and his first male desire in the form of an older teen, Eduardo (César Vicente) he educates in reading, writing and in mathematics.
PAIN AND GLORY is most similar to Almodovar’s best film LA MALA EDUCACION (BAD EDUCATION) with similar scenes like young boys bathing in the river and the influence on cinema on the protagonist as well as first love. The young boys were under the watch of Catholic priests, one of which is a pedophile. In PAIN AND GLORY, the river scene has Penelope Cruz, looking as beautiful as ever, washing her sheets in the river with other women and her son. She is singing what could be a traditional country Spanish song in a scene that the protagonist, Salvador reminisces of.
PAIN AND GLORY draws from the work and life of director Almodovar and could be describe as an autobiographical film. It can be described as several vignettes put together to form a story.
What is most inspirational about Almodovar movies, are that most of his movies are about the love of cinema. In LA MALA EDUCACION, the two male lovers first met as kids in a cinema. In PAIN AND GLORY, it is all about Salvador and his films. At the film’s start, Salvador confesses he has just watched and was moved by his second watching of his film “Sabor”. That is so true that watching a film a second viewing brings forth much more that was miss the first time. Salvador also confesses that his lead actor’s performance seems much better than it was 30 years ago.
The film’s best parts are those involving Salvador’s sexual awakening – when as a boy he places his hand over Eduardo’s, the one he is teaching how to write, or how the Eduardo trips don to wash, totally nude.
Director Almodovar splashes his colours again in this film. He transforms the dull cave Salvador lived in as a kid into whitewashed walls with colours in the curtains and tiles.
What is most marvellous is the way Almodovar shows the beauty in life and how life dishes it out. Being poor, he had to go to a seminary on a scholarship to earn his A Levels diploma. But there, he is pulled out to sing in the choir because of his beautiful voice and given passing grades in his subjects without learning anything. Yet, when he became a filmmaker, his knowledge came from other means. But now as an ageing filmmaker with physical and emotional ailments, Salvador must find himself again.
Salvador is constantly sick with ailments like migraines (Almodovar has them too), back pain and others. Almodovar’s deeply personal work is extremely moving and he is able to arouse the audience to feel the pain suffered by Salvador. Banderas won the Best Actor prize at Cannes for his portrayal of Salvador and the actor playing Salvador’s first desire is the hottest thing seen this year at TIFF.
PAIN AND GLORY has the best joke that would not be noticed by the majority of the audience. I would call it Almodovar’s personal joke. Which is really funny. When the boy faints in the middle of the film, his mother and Eduardo think it is due to the sun and possibly a minor heat stroke. But the reality is that the boy fainted after seeing Eduardo’s big penis.
I first viewed PAIN AND GLORY at TIFF and now a second time. The film survives a viewing proving that it is layered, brilliantly and an overall excellent film.