Pain & Glory

Nov 8, 2019

Almodovar is reborn as a great filmmaker in this semi-autobiography.

Pain & Glory

Grade: B+

Director: Pedro Almodovar (The Skin I Live In)

Screenplay: Almodovar

Cast: Antonio Banderas (The Laundromat), Penelope Cruz (Everybody Knows)

Rating: R

Runtime: 1 h 53 m

By: John DeSando

“Without filming, life is meaningless.” Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas)

Salvador is Padro Almodóvar’s semi-autobiographical self in Pain and Glory, a drama about an aging Spanish filmmaker dealing with writer’s lassitude, decreasing sexual power, addictions, and memories of childhood that clearly explain his late-in-life challenges.

It’s a sweet, fictional reverie that brings to mind Fellini’s recollection in 8 ½. At age 70, Almodóvar has, since Julieta, never been better.

Nor has Banderas, who, after a heart attack, seems to have himself found a new vigor and depth never before seen. Rejuvenation is all around.

The drama, narrated by Salvador, connects the dots of his own life through his films. Writer/director Almodóvar has the audience living through Mallo’s daily boredom, which reveals the numerous incomplete stories and musings, many of which could have been produced. Present are all the rich colors, especially red, and the eccentric life choices.  His impediments to a robust life now gradually reveal themselves such as disturbing memories of his mother, a love lost, and most of all addiction to heroin.

At the dawn of his ‘70’s and the slide of his age, it’s the heroin debility that hurts the most as we watch this genius buckle to the hypnotic power of substance. However, as he reminisces about family and loves of the past, he is energized to re-enter the creative world.

As powerful as any force is his youthful, electric mom (Penelope Cruz). When they moved into what looked like a cave, she transformed it into a glamorous catacomb (not a bad metaphor). His close relationship with his aging mother toward the end of the film is an exercise in lyrical, sentimental, and loving filmmaking.

This is not a memoir, but it is as close as we have to the auteur glossing the many afflictions he has dealt with his whole life. The result: colorful regret spiced with romance shouting that life is good. And filmmaking.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at