Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory (Dolor y gloria) is a warm, contemplative movie by a wonderful filmmaker who has earned making what is essentially a tenderly, sometimes painfully felt, yet ultimately gentle retrospective about his own life. There is not a dearth of films about male artists getting older and considering their life and work, given who often makes movies, and those vary in how much I feel they’re worth it for the rest of us. I think this one is genuinely Good, a good film, and I don’t think it’s inherently a problem that it is best for people who already love Almodóvar. Again, I think he’s earned it. He has put in the years, put in the work, that is required to make something as openly personal as this project feel as balanced as it manages. He makes it make sense, which is all any of us are ever trying to do with our lives. That storytellers are better at this than others is because they’re storytellers, not because their lives naturally fall in resonant patterns. When you stop and consider this movie later, the plot is rather piecemeal. Things just kind of happen, drift up and then back down again. But while I was watching it, it just felt like a nice piece of Alberto Iglesias score.
What I think is most interesting about Pain and Glory, if you do know Almodóvar’s work up until now, is that he has traded the melodrama for mellowness. There’s a bit where Antonio Banderas, playing the Almodóvar analogue, instructs his actor to not give in to the temptation to cry, to hold it back, and all I could think about was him opening Talk To Her with two men just weeping in a theatre. Did I kinda miss that colorful passion? Maybe. But he’s older now. He’s not more restrained or buttoned up, it’s just more….gentle. Sweet. There are still some cinematic flights of artistic fancy, but they’re mostly kept in the bookends, some of the scenes of little Salvador in his childhood—his mother and the other women’s gorgeous singing as they unfurl clean sheets to dry on the reeds by the river, the young handyman washing in the kitchen under the skylight on a warm day. And the very, very lovely final scene sets all this into focus in a way that elevated the whole movie for me. It’s nice feeling you’re in capable hands.
Antonio Banderas is deeply a part of that comforting capability as well. He should be nominated for an Oscar for this, and very well may be. I was moved watching the ginger way he gets out of taxis, trying to spare his stiff, pained back. The actor playing the actor Salvador had fallen out with 30 years before and is reconnecting with over the first part of the movie, was also terrific. I’ve been lightly trying to learn some Spanish, and I’d recently learned ‘pirata’, los hombres son piratas, and I thought this every time I saw his dashing, rapscallion face framed with that long hair. Anyway, don’t do heroin, kids. But if you have kids of your own, do be like Salvador’s ex-boyfriend from his youth and tell your eldest son about your relationship with a man, “to encourage him.” Charming, it’s a charming movie.