Banderas is in fine form as an aging filmmaker in the new release from the Spanish director
As a director, Pedro Almodóvar has never been afraid to inject elements of his life story or his personality into his work; in my favorite of his films, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, he even appears in a small role. Pain and Glory, which reteams actor Antonio Banderas with the director, goes even farther into his personal life (although it’s not a direct parallel). Banderas plays aging filmmaker Salvador, beleaguered with constant pain and dwelling in his memories as a manner of coping.
Penelope Cruz, another Almodóvar mainstay, appears as young Salvador’s mother. The older Salvador often calls her to mind as he thinks on his own mortality. His pain is overwhelming enough that he hasn’t been able to film anything in years, although he has a number of drafts in various stages on his computer.
As Salvador narrates his tale, his current timeline — the halted career, his loneliness, an experimentation with heroin brought on by a reunion with an actor from his first film — intermingle with scenes from his childhood. As in other of his works, Almodóvar doesn’t shy from showing us a play within a movie, or even a movie within a movie, if you will.
Banderas is ferocious in his portrayal of Salvador, diving into the extremes of the character in one of the best performances of the year. There are layers of emotion in his soulful eyes, whether he is catching up with a former romantic partner or joking around with Alberto (Asier Etxeandia).
In the later half of the film, in its most authentic moments, Salvador thinks of the more recent past, when his mother (Julieta Serrano, who in a lovely twist played Banderas’ mother in Women on the Verge) spent time with him. He (and Almodóvar) refers to his movies as “autofiction,” as mom Jacinta tells him the neighbors never liked the versions of themselves that appeared in his films.
Pain and Glory delivers emotionally resonant scenes amidst moments of silliness, and it all works. There aren’t many weak spots to this film — from the casting to the set design to the story being told. It all adds up to make the hopeful ending that much more satisfying.
Pain and Glory is currently playing in theaters.