Pedro Almodovar’s new movie PAIN AND GLORY moved me deeply. Antonio Banderas turns in a solid performance as the main character, Salvador Mallo, a gay, successful writer and film director. Aging, chronic physical and emotional pain, lack of inspiration, and new-found substance abuse all act as catalysts for Salvador to come to terms with his past.
Early in the story, an old wound is opened for Salvador when a film of his from the 1980s has a special screening for the public. The star of that movie, Alberto Crespo (played by Asier Etxeandia), and he must deal with 32 years of estrangement in order to present a positive front to the viewing audience. This pushes pain-stricken Salvador to further reflect on past events while accepting smokeable heroin doses from Alberto, a long-time chaser of the dragon.
The narrative consists of an interweaving of the present-day with flashbacks from Salvador’s poverty-stricken childhood and, eventually, more recent past events. Penelope Cruz movingly plays Salvador’s devoted, beleaguered mother, Jacinta, whose husband relocates the family from a country village in Spain to a city (Madrid, I believe) with more economic opportunities. Nine-year-old Salvador (Asier Flores) is recruited to teach a handsome, illiterate young laborer and artist, Eduardo (Cesare Vicente), to read and write. As payment, Eduardo agrees to help fix up the Mallo family’s new home, a white-washed cave within catacombs from Medieval times. He awakens Salvador’s sexual desire, which is filmed in a gradually unfolding, tender way.
Seeing homoerotic desire so naturally paired with childhood innocence pierced my heart. Almodovar knocked it out of the park yet again for me. I’ve always enjoyed the films of his I’ve managed to see and this one did not disappoint. I imagine much of the screen play is autobiographical of Almodovar, who also wrote besides directed this gem (which I believe he usually does for his productions). Like Salvador in PAIN AND GLORY, I find myself a middle aged gay man reflecting on past events and the main themes of my life. I felt a heady mix of heartened, intrigued, and enraptured to see Almodovar present such introspection up on the big screen with much tenderness and compassion, peppered with humor and little homages to old Hollywood movies and their beautiful stars. Whether or not you, the reader, choose to see this lovely, contemplative movie, we should all take a cue from it and view ourselves and others with more open, compassionate hearts.