Pain & Glory – Pride Month Retrospective

Written & Directed by Pedro Almodóvar

Rating: 4 out of 5.

There’s growth all around “Pain & Glory” (2019), personal, universal, and out with the film itself, and while there is an overarching narrative, Pedro Almodóvar’s film is as equally about his self journey as it is Salvador Mallo’s back and forth throughout life. A story of pleasure, it is Almodóvar after all, this film accounts for the lost opportunities, the rekindled friendships and plunges back into life, rebutting the dark stupors of depression, isolation and a rejection of the self – all in favour to produce a methodical, grim film which seeks as much enjoyment it can from the struggles of life.  

A movie director who has, for one cause of another, refrained from making a film for years, Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) balances his chronic back pain, regrets, and stifles of creativity with a growing need to re-connect and fix estranged relationships. Seeking out a previous actor from his hit film, which is due for a re-release and Q&A, Salvador locates Alberto (Asier Etxeandia), and the two rekindle their “friendships”. Salvador is encouraged to take up heroin as a means to dull his pain, both mentally and physically. The drug abuse, visions of the past and regrets drive him to return to a theatrical play he has written but wishes to claim no credit for, as its subject material lacerates too deep on his mind, triggering thoughts of the lost love who has since moved on, choosing addiction over companionship.

As the ‘true’ narrative unfolds, ripples of memories stir in Salvador’s life, as the ties he attempted to cut return. Echoes of his mother, marvellously captured by Penélope Cruz, and in her later life by Julieta Serrano as a fiery woman, family-focused and proud, there’s a fragility to Cruz’s gorgeous performance which ripples throughout the film, and despite never sharing the screen with Banderas, influences the impact of his performance exponentially.

These interactions, often ending grimly, never pleasantly, through death, rejection or addiction are what forge this connection between Salvador and the audience’s experiences. None more so than with Eduardo, or Frederic, the man whom ‘Addiction’, Salvador’s play was written about, and is now happily married to a woman. The microcosm of suffering, betraying Banderas’ face as he steals these briefs glimpses of happiness, set against all the wealth his career has promised, but delivered none of the gratifications, ties together the split-second clues and shots of Salvador as a young boy, with a lingering eye towards the older painter Eduardo. Sexuality is an undercurrent in ‘Pain & Glory’, but masterfully handled by Almodóvar is no cheap tactic, but a personal infusion.

And while Almodóvar is the evident maestro of the film, it wouldn’t be quite so effective without Antonio Banderas. We see the world, as brutal and gut-wrenchingly awful as it can be, through his eyes, and what a sight to behold, like the dawning realisation of beauty, beneath all of the anguish, flourishes.

It cannot be stated enough, those unaware of Almodóvar’s work will potentially be put off by the artistic integrity of the experience – to be blunt, “Pain & Glory” is structurally a piece of artistic expression, wrapped in a cinematographic garb. It’s an astonishingly touching, poignant piece which lends itself to a staggeringly slow pace. This isn’t a film for everyone, but it is cinema made for and about everyone. We have perhaps come closer to Almodóvar than ever before, stripped of the emotional facades while sacrificing none of the visual or cinematic aesthetics.  

It is scenes set in the past, the carved home of Salvador and his mother which demonstrate José Luis Alcaine’s utterly exquisite manipulation of the light. The white-washed walls gradually cleansing the moods of his family, as they grow together, concealing the ‘ugliness’ beneath. His direction of cinematography completes the trifecta of the Almodóvar triangle with Banderas, revitalising a multiple of steady, or lengthy shots, offering a visual splendour to soften the scene, or starkly, cast the mood in shadows as ill-fated decisions and feelings surface.

And here is where ‘Pain & Glory’ suffers, in its valiant attempts to remain a film, to deconstruct much of the narrative to offer accessibility – in doing so, rips a little of the power behind the premise. A personal preference for some, but understandably lacking, is the conceptual ‘pay-off’ of the flood of emotion as the tears cannot be held back. ‘Pain & Glory’, instead, feels robustly human in this sense. Denying the audience this melodramatic moment, and instead harkening back to reality, to bleakness and necessity.

Naked, raw, and bare as possible, “Pain & Glory” refrains from pander and weaves itself into the fabric of reality. It’s difficult not to immediately become engrossed into the profoundly vivid colours, like a memory on steroids. Often harrowing, frequently humorous, there is little doubt to the bleakness of Almodóvar’s most ‘honest’ film to date, but quite often in this endless darkness of self-loathing, abuse and hate, there is the smallest glimmer of hope, and this light is what the focus of “Pain & Glory” magnifies.

Review originally published for In Their Own League:

Suffering from Scottishness – Assembly Roxy

Written by Kevin P Gilday

Runs at Assembly Roxy until August 26th (Not 13th or 20th), 17.10pm

Irn Bru, Grand Theft Auto, Nessie, Haggis, the Telephone, Lewis Capaldi, Pride, Sense of Humour and the highest drug death rate in Western Europe Annie Lennox. With all of these things, why the hell wouldn’t you want to be Scottish?

Ever thought to yourself; “I know what would fix this country”, well, now you have the chance to prove yourself in envisioning a brand-new Scottish Citizenship Test. It’s an honour, you know. To be lucky enough to have a hand in fashioning the history of this magnificent country’s borders.  

Suited and booted, Kevin P. Gilday is here on behalf of a government body to gauge our responses to a vital question: Just what does it mean to be Scottish? Suffering from Scottishness is a part of HighTide’s Disruption, which sees six contemporary pieces presented in partnership with Assembly. In a turn of Orwellian ingenuity, Suffering from Scottishness is both social experiment and theatrical plaything.

If you’ve never seen Gilday before, you’ll quickly realise why he is an award-winning writer and spoken word artist. In particular, his control of poetry is a selling feature of the production above its unique concept. A well placed spoken word can turn a sea of people in a way a written one can only dream.

Nationalism. It’s a bit of dirty word these days. Wasn’t always, still has redeeming qualities, but quite often it now goes hand in hand with a sense of blindness. Blindness to see that Scotland has issues, so does the rest of the world, but we’re ignoring several life-threatening ones on our doorstep.

Audience interaction. The make or break of a production. Luckily, Gilday knows precisely where to gauge the level. Instead of directly involving the audience, he looks for their assistance, still seating, it draws us all in closer.

Everyone is now on even footing, we’re engaging together, not watching separately. If anything, there isn’t enough involvement – one suspects more is the plan, after testing waters.

Light-hearted, uplifting and a bit of fun, Suffering from Scottishness also has a ripple of commentary. It’s a mirror, which at first capitalises on Scotland’s idiosyncratic features – only for the glass to shatter, revealing the motive underneath. It’s a compelling play, with a profound poet notion, not only to its words but its concept.

Tickets available from:

The Pride Plays: Captivity @ Traverse Theare

Image Contribution:
Shift Theatre

Created by Drew Taylor-Wilson

Theatre isn’t as diverse and accommodating as it ought it be – it has just as many issues with representation as film or TV. One company looking to change that is Shift Theatre Company with their launch of Scotland’s first LGBTQI+ Playwrights’ festival, Pride Plays, featuring Drew Taylor-Wilson’s black comedy Captivity.

Captivity plays around with a fascinating concept: that forcing two subjects of the same identifying sex into an enclosed space will lead to them exhibiting traits appertaining to homosexuality (for ‘research’). It’s about falling in love (or lust) and the notion thaat cynics, or those obsessed with a ‘gay agenda’, are delusional to their own sexuality. 

Its weakness lies in the drive for tension – it’s a developing piece which invests heavily in its performers. The script, setting out these issues, is tight but seems too fearful of its audience becoming distracted. We’re taken in by these characters – we care about them. What we don’t need is forced drama in the final 15 minutes. The sci-fi element of the script is pushed too firmly with locked houses and forced sexual situations.

Despite being a rehearsed reading, there is movement – though it seems unnecessary. The performances range in their comedic delivery, with the likes of Colin Jamieson and Neshla Caplan offering witty remarks throughout. David Paisley’s portrayal of the secluded Ben sells the climax. His desire to remain shut away results in a combustion of emotion so stirring that it sucker-punches from the dark. 

Pride Plays is allowing creators such as Taylor-Wilson the ability to thrust their stories to an audience who may never have had the chance to hear them. With their first outing at the Traverse a seeming success we look forward to a wealth of unsung writers, performers and talent stretching their wings and ruffling some feathers. 

Original Run: Ended

Review originally published for The Skinny: