Pain and Glory (aka Dolor y gloria) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Within the non-linear path of Pain and Glory is a subtle sweetness to the strangeness of age. Antonio Banderas absolutely melts into the role of an aged director who hasn’t come to terms with himself or his past. By the end of the film, he won’t have fully come to a realization and newfound love of his life but more of an understanding. A surreal sensation that life has a certain allure with age and our fears start to simmer to a point we hope we can step out of our element.
Banderas plays director Salvador Mallo. He has come a long way from being a poor kid growing up in a village of illiterate builders. Even as a child, he was found to be so smart that he could even teach reading and writing to adults. Soon, he would be chosen to attend a school where he would finely tune his talents. Salvador grows up to become a director but we won’t see that successful and chaotic part of his life.
Instead, we catch up with him in his old age where many years have passed since the film that defined him. Quieter and his health slowly passing, Salvador finds his mind lingering to the past. His film has been restored and will soon be having a public screening for the most influential films of Madrid. Rewatching the film has reignited a certain spark within him. It’s not enough to make him eager to hop right back into directing but intrigued enough he may start writing. He also reconnects with his actor pal who he hasn’t spoken to in years. A questioning comes up for how much they need each other and how much Salvador needs him for the drugs to tame his pain.
There’s a lot of Salvador’s mind as his blank expression reveals little more than an aged face of a white beard. He informs us about his medical issues he’s developed over time in a mostly analytical mindset, complete with a computer-like synth of his brain buzzing with the internal workings. We hear this music during any scene where Salvador seems more within his mind than anything else, thinking more about his next move than anything else. Simpler scenes of contemplation feature a curious melody of pondering how wonderful life can be with all its ups and downs. It’s almost as though we can feel a smile forming behind his stoic face.
There is, however, some genuine happiness to Salvator’s tale. After publishing a one-man show, an old friend comes to visit him. They had been romantically involved but this man has moved on and had children. But, wait, he’s divorced. Could a new romance form? Maybe but the real question is whether or not Salvador is willing to pursue another relationship. Everywhere around him he notices marriages failing and friendships crumbling. The human spirit seems to die with age, the same way Salvador refuses to fully acknowledge his illness and condition, covering it up with drugs. He’d rather live within the joy of cinema, where writing enraptures him like no other pleasure. Even if that the nostalgic love of film comes with the odor of urine from dirty theaters. Things change with age and nostalgia is weird like that.
Pain and Glory is such a personal experience of a picture that invites us to crawl within Salvator’s peculiar mind and take in his troubles. The humanizing element is strong by portraying him as a man with many problems, refusing to leave his place at times. There’s a bittersweet ending where he happens upon some writing from a student he had decades ago. He could pursue the clues to find this man but he doesn’t, remarking that it’s only important that it somehow found its way back to him. The closure comes for us in different ways and it's up to us decide how we deal with it. Salvador deals with it in a way that may not seem like rise for the loner director but certainly a relatable and human response.