Watch this as soon as you can…
Pedro Almodóvar, with his latest film, Pain and Glory, has crafted a deeply personal meditation on what it feels like to have passed your prime and the peak of your notoriety. Telling the story of an ageing film director who has given up on making films, feeling physically weak after an operation, in mourning after his mother’s death, and using the past and heroin to try and find some comfort, this film attempts to evoke a kaleidoscope of emotions. In this regard, Almodóvar’s latest work is very successful, for it is so well-crafted one cannot help but be moved by the story of Salvador Mallo.
Antonio Banderas offers a fantastic performance as the ageing director who has given up on his career and life in general. The opening shot of him underwater at the bottom of a swimming pool, in complete stasis, tells you everything you need to know about Salvador Mallo. He feels overwhelmed and that his life has stagnated. Banderas captures this perfectly throughout his performance. His presence is fragile and introspective. One cannot help but relate to and be moved by Banderas’ work. It is no wonder that Banderas won the Best Actor award at Cannes. He is often depicted through close-ups with Banderas positioned at the centre of the frame, presenting him as small and insignificant to the rest of the shot, akin to how the character feels. Whilst the cinematographer, José Luis Alcane, does a lot of work to suggest how Mallo is feeling, it is Banderas’ solemn and moving performance that really captures the poignancy and sadness of Mallo’s life at this stage.
As mentioned, the work behind the camera serves to enhance Banderas’ performance and make its ability to move even more powerful. Alcane’s cinematography gives the film vibrancy and richness. The colours have character all of their own and it is difficult to take your eyes off them. This appears to match how Mallo is feeling when he finds comfort taking drugs and reuniting with old friends and past flames. However, it also contrasts significantly with this depressed protagonist, suggesting how isolated he feels from the rest of the world. The score is often a lot more muted in comparison- graver and darker- which serves to heighten these conflicts of emotion. The emptiness inside juxtaposes with settings filled with life (production designer Antxón Gómez has done a superb job too) to create clashing emotions in the viewer.
This film also has some of the finest editing. There is a seamlessness and agility to the narrative as it bounces between past and present and through all sorts of different colour settings. The editing really makes every scene transition feel continuous and natural. The opening shot in the swimming pool is linked to the next one set at a river. Computer screens swipe into projector screens. One set of piano keys in the present melts into one from Mallo’s past. Of course, there must be cuts in this film. They are just so unnoticeable that the film feels like it is progressing naturaly through Mallo’s state of mind and the life that shaped it.
Backed up by an excellent performance, impressive cinematography and some seamless editing, Almodóvar’s latest film paints a moving portrait of an ageing filmmaker’s life during a particularly bleak period. It is hard not to feel involved, or to feel empathy, for Mallo’s story. The cinematography captures your eye, and the editing ensures you are smoothly guided through the narrative, but it is Banderas’ wistful performance, filled with great emotional depth, that makes this film so memorable.