Dolor y Gloria (Pain and Glory) FL, 2019, 3 ½ stars

No Pain,  no gain

Image courtesy Telluride Film Festival

Exclusive to MeierMovies.com, October 28, 2019

Pedro Almodóvar has an uncanny knack for creating movies that are thoughtful yet rarely overbearing or oppressive. Instead, his films almost always have a lightness to them, which he accomplishes through a combination of humor, unexpectedly breezy music and a vibrant color palette.

His latest achievement, Pain and Glory (Dolor y Gloria in Spanish), is no different, though the humor is a bit more difficult to find in this introspective and structurally twisty drama. Antonio Banderas plays Salvador Mallo, a film director beset by ill health, haunted by his past and fearing for his future. In both flashbacks and real time, we’re introduced to Salvador’s demons, friends, lovers and family – including his mother, played memorably by Almodóvar regular Penélope Cruz.

But the film belongs to Banderas, who picked up the award for best actor at the Cannes Film Festival. He is consistently good at conveying vulnerability, but he takes it to another level here, delivering a performance that captures the exhaustion and frustration of a full life.

“On the nights when various pains coincide,” he tells us through voiceover narration, “that’s when I believe in God and I pray to him. The days when I only suffer one kind of pain, I’m an atheist.”

And it also belongs to Almodóvar, as the legendary Spanish writer-director seems to be swimming in auto-biographical waters. The result is occasionally frustrating thanks to the screenplay’s rambling structure. In addition, one could argue that the final film is less impactful, narratively, than the sum of its parts. But its clever ending fixes some of those gripes and casts the entire production, correctly, in a more metaphorical, rather than literal, light.

One of the film’s most memorable moments is when Salvador, after helping to organize a special screening of one of his old films, fails to show up – because of anxiety and his heroin habit. Coincidentally, I missed a screening of Pain and Glory at this year’s Telluride Film Festival. (I can’t blame anxiety or drugs.) However, I did arrive just in time for the Q&A, at which Banderas said – not unlike his character in the film – that a recent health scare had changed him for the better because it placed his life in better focus. For Banderas, it was a heart attack. For Salvador, well, you’ll just have to see the film. But both the real and fictional health scares beg the question: What would the men do if they couldn’t make movies? It’s a quandary that the film addresses head-on:

“If you don’t write or film, what will you do?” a friend asks Salvador.

“Live, I guess.”

Let’s hope Banderas and Almodóvar can continue to do both for a long time.

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