Programme Notes - Pain and Glory

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Pain and Glory

Spoiler warning: these notes are best read after viewing the film. They contain discussion of plot and character details.

“When I start to write a screenplay, the first scenes do have some connection to my life. But then fiction comes into play, and when we write, we have to be true to fiction, not to reality.”[1] This was Pain and Glory writer/director Pedro Almodóvar’s response to the question of the autobiographical nature of his 22nd feature, when it premiered at Cannes earlier this year. This is very likely one of the first questions audiences will ask after watching the film; its central character Salvador is an ageing Spanish film director, and there are many parallels to be found between Salvador’s life and work and that of the film’s creator. The fact that Salvador is played by Antonio Banderas with a greying, spiked hairstyle reminiscent of Almodóvar’s own unmistakable coiffure (and wearing some of the director’s own clothes) only pushes the point further.

But while there is clearly a personal story being told here, it is not necessary for an audience to know anything about Almodóvar or his films to be able to connect with Pain and Glory. The bold and broad nature of the film’s title suggests that, in telling this very focused story centred on one key character, Almodóvar is leading us to consider the universal nature of these two pillars of human experience. Hopefully we don’t fully relate to the catalogue of physical and spiritual pain illustrated in the film’s strangest sequence – in which a montage of computer-generated diagrams guides us through Salvador’s encyclopaedia of suffering. But we all know what it feels like to be betrayed by our own bodies in some way. And we may not have had dramatic personal and professional relationship breakdowns on the level of Salvador’s, but we all know the sting of a heartbreak.

The underlying truth found in Almodóvar’s film is that this kind of suffering can be, and perhaps ultimately must be, a catalyst for a moment – but perhaps only a moment - of ‘glory’. In this story Salvador digs into the pain of his past, and the resulting artwork, his soul-baring monologue, leads directly to the glory of reconciliation. This is true both in Salvador’s reconnection with his lead actor of 32 years previous, and more significantly in his momentary reunion with his ex-lover Federico. It is a wish-fulfilment of a kind; the coincidence that Federico is in the right place at the right time to end up in the audience for Alberto’s monologue, and can then walk to Salvador’s apartment, find him in and alone, ready to talk. But the graceful restraint of Almodóvar’s approach in Pain and Glory plays down the chance nature of all this, and allows the pure emotional truth of it to be the film’s driving force. As Manu Yáñez Murillo notes in his excellent review of the film, “Pain and Glory is guided by an austerity and quietude that only pulls back in the most exuberant childhood flashbacks.”[2] The film’s lack of any attention-grabbing camera movement is unusual for Almodóvar, but it allows Pain and Glory to feel gentler, less insistent and more considered than any of his previous works. This lack of showiness prompts the audience to lean in and pay attention to the details.

The same can be said of the lead performance by Antonio Banderas. His quiet, subtle portrayal of Salvador is a revelation, even in the context of him having already returned to Almodóvar’s world in 2011 to star in The Skin I Live In. Whereas that was a big performance that had much of the Hollywood showman about it, this is a Banderas we haven’t seen before. As Almódovar himself has said, “The character is the opposite to the bravura of the characters he has played to date. Profound, subtle, with a very varied gallery of minute gestures, he has pulled off a very difficult character.”[3]

Pain and Glory makes an interesting comparison with another recent work from a beloved director who also seems to have one eye on the end of his career: Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood. But Tarantino’s film, while similar to Almodóvar’s in its thoughtful and meditative qualities, ultimately seems to suggest film can be a vehicle for violently reckoning with history in order to preserve an idealized past. Almodóvar’s approach is more about using film as a catalyst for reconciliation with the past. This is not to say that the past we see in Pain and Glory is any less idealized than the one evoked in Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood. In fact, Almodóvar’s final revelation, that the Penelope Cruz character we have been watching is an actress playing Salvador’s mother, makes explicit that the version of history that we see in the movie is the most beautiful version possible. But the fact that Salvador is making the movie is the deeper ‘glory’; he has found a way to look at the past and be at peace with it.

Paul Gallagher

GFT Programme Manager

If you have watched Pain and Glory and want to share your thoughts on the film, we would love to hear from you. Tweet @glasgowfilm or email and tell us what you thought.

[1] - Pedro Almodóvar – Director of Pain and Glory

[2] - Review: Pain and Glory, Film Comment

[3] - Antonio Banderas on playing Almodóvar, Pain and Glory and leaving Hollywood, Financial Times

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