This movie opens with Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas with graying hair and beard) in a therapy pool following spinal surgery and then, as a child, playing by a river while his mother (Penélope Cruz) and her friends wash their family linens.
The story that follows is a series of Mallo’s recollections of his life between those two events, and how they sort themselves in his mind.
We learn that the aging Mallo is a famous film director whose professional life is blocked by the pain of the movie’s title — the loss of his mother and physical maladies ranging from the back matter to an ongoing choking reflex. Said shorter, Mallo is suffering a quiet but real existential crisis.
After agreeing to attend the screening of a 30-year-old film of his, Mallo skips the event, smokes a little heroin (apparently safer than injecting the stuff, FWIW) with the film’s star and sets in motion a process of revery and re-examination.
This is not a formulaic movie but one that cuts between current moments and memories. If Mallo seems to be liking the heroin a bit much, well, he also is gaining perspective. The movie gets more interesting as it goes along.
In some ways, this is a small film, skillfully made but with a powerful cumulative effect. It calls to mind the famous line from Søren Kirkegaard: Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.
If Pain and Glory shows up in your local art house, it’s worth a look.
Pain and Glory was written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar, Spain’s most lauded filmmaker, and the lead character has much in common, superficially, with Almodóvar himself. But the auteur has gone to some lengths, in the movie and associated interviews, to assert that it is NOT autobiography.
The film inevitably gets compared with 8 1/2, another blocked-filmmaker story by Federico Fellini. That 1963 movie apparently WAS autobiographical and made when Fellini was suffering a mid-career panic over what film to make next.