I do not see many foreign language films, in fact, this is the first time I’ve reviewed a foreign language film. The main reason why I do not see many is because of the complex nature of language in itself, I don’t think a lot of the foibles of language can be conveyed through subtitles, and between translation, certain hidden meanings lose their impact.
However, after seeing the reception this film got, and a screening of it being available at my local cinema, I decided to make an exception to my usual rule.
Ageing film director Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) is struggling through life with multiple ailments, forcing him into a deep depression, when he rekindles a friendship with Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia) an actor with whom he fell out decades ago, his life begins to spiral out of control.
As a whole, this film is a character study. Revolving around the life and hardships of its main character, exploring his life from childhood to old age, it puts his experiences and later hardships under a microscope while comparing it with his career as a filmmaker.
According to my research, this film is almost semi-autobiographical. Its director, Pedro Almodovar, is projecting himself onto Banderas, from what I understand. Although to what degree, I can’t be sure.
As a vehicle for Banderas’ performance, the film is outstanding, as is the performance itself. Measured, subtle, and at times heartbreaking, his character is desperate and at his lowest ebb, despite his apparent wealth, his life is directionless thanks to his various aches and illnesses, it’s a wonderful portrayal of loneliness and depression.
It’s also very well put together, sequences of modern-day Salvador are broken up by flashbacks to his childhood, in the hope of shedding some light on his current state, spotlighting his relationship with his at times over-bearing mother, and the early awakenings of his desires.
It also has an interesting angle on the topic of drug dependency, rather than portraying addicts at rock-bottom, it uses it skilfully and as an aid to the accompanying story beats, it is used not because of addiction, but as a counter-balance to the pain the character is in. It’s very rare drug use is covered well in films, but this is one of those rare occasions.
It’s also visually stunning, covering the sun-kissed Spanish villages and vibrant cities with artistic flair and arresting nuance. The settings are used to aid the character and narrative, they are not there simply for artistic choice, but to show the juxtaposition between Salvador’s early and later years, there’s an almost equal split between time spent in each time period, not dwelling too much on unnecessary exposition, but rather enhancing its narrative with expanding its horizons.
It’s not a perfect film, it’s over-long for a start, certain things could have done with cutting for expedience, and there are perhaps too many characters stuffed into the narrative maybe for its own good, that aren’t in service of the story. But all of these things are niggles on the face of it. Its ending may also lose a few viewers, but seen from the right angle, it’s incredibly rewarding.
In conclusion, Pain and Glory is a damn fine film. With an extraordinarily layered and complex lead performance and visually arresting direction, it makes it stand out among the most recent releases, despite it being in a different language, I could still grasp most of its subtext, a show of its skilfully written script. A worthy watch for any film fan.