Pedro Almodóvar is one of the great names of European cinema. And he now draws on his own experience as a film writer and director over the past 40 years in his most recent film, Pain and Glory (Dolor y gloria).
The films follows Salvador Mallo through the later part of his career as he struggles with illness and chronic pain, as well as creative problems that have left him rudderless and consumed by his issues. After reencountering one of his former lead actors, Alberto Crespo, Salvador begins to reminisce over some of the key moments from his life, his relationship with his mother, and with his first love Federico in the 80s. Antonio Banderas plays Salvador, and captures the pain and struggles that he is undergoing subtly yet clearly in a powerful lead performance. Banderas and Almodóvar have had a long history of working together, so it seems fitting that he should bring what feels like such a personal character to Almodóvar to life.
Asier Etxeandia plays Alberto Crespo, and his dynamic and chemistry with Banderas is one of the highlights of the film. Seeing this old friendship that has fallen apart and how the two are wary of one another now is fascinating. It is a relationship that feels incredibly authentic and real to two creative personalities that click in art, but not necessarily in their personal lives, and the scenes between the two are riveting. Leonardo Sbaraglia as Salvador’s first love Federico is fantastic in a bitter sweet scene as the two are reunited after many years.
Pain and Glory is a beautiful meditative, and clearly deeply personal look at the life of an artist. Almodóvar is clearly celebrating the craft of filmmaking, but balances this out with the touching personal story, lead by Banderas fantastic leading performance.