Antonio Banderas and Pedro Amaldóvar are two of Spain’s biggest film exports and have worked together numerous times. It’s fitting then that in Pain & Glory, the story of an ageing filmmaker in a creative rut who needs address some unresolved issues from his past, Banderas is basically playing Amaldóvar.
He’s not, of course. Not exactly. Banderas is Salvador Mallo, a respected director who was a maverick in his youth and who has settled into more soulful work in his later years who is suffering from debilitating pain and illness. So he’s basically Amaldóvar in this semi-autobiographical film. He’s also transcendently good in the role.
The story follows Salvador in the present as he attempts to reconnect with the star of his first feature. His relationship with the actor and the film are both tumultuous, having not been able to speak to the actor nor watch he film since its release 30 years prior but now wishing to reconnect after finally achieving the latter.
We also get Salvador’s back story, his formative years as a child and his final interactions with his mother, through some drug-induced flashbacks. We witness the poverty he grew up in, his first pangs of desire at the sight of another man, and the impact that his work has had on his friends and his family.
Banderas is on fire through the whole film. His Salvador, who quietly suffers from headaches and joint pains and an inability to swallow solid food. In most scenes, his face and body language convey are subtle and impactful even when he’s barely speaking or moving. In one scene where he reconnects with a former lover on the phone, he conveys more with a single word than others might with an entire monologue.
There are no wasted frames in Pain & Glory (though you could argue there is more glory than pain), Amaldóvar remains at the top of his game also. He has basically laid his being out on the screen for us to examine, and to evaluate. Each scene elucidates some aspect of his being and his struggle to break out of a creative rut. Not for nothing, the last scene in this film is one of the most thematically satisfying I’ve seen this year.
A deeply personal work with a career-best performance from its star, Pain & Glory is definitely one to add to your watch list.