Pedro Almodóvar reimagines memory with his latest film “Pain and Glory”
A man looks in the mirror to see what his life could have been while fearing what it may have become. While he clearly sees the wisdom of age in the lines that crease his face, he looks behind his eyes to consider what choices he has made. As he continues to stare at himself, he wonders what in his personal narrative he would like the chance to rewrite.
Pedro Almodóvar asks many questions about how people react to aging in his insightful film “Pain and Glory.” But he also dares to provide many answers. Instead the famed moviemaker asks his characters to consider what they want to accurately remember as well as what in history they might prefer to reconsider. And he suggests that confronting the details of the past may not always be the best way to learn from what has been. The moviemaker suggests that some experiences should simply be forgotten.
Like the best of Almodóvar films — including “All About My Mother” and “Talk to Her” — this new piece is at his best when the moviemaker brings his own fears to the characters he creates. This time, we can’t help but wonder how much of the man on the screen reflects the man behind the camera as we watch someone try to resolve, after so many years, the origins of the priorities he lives every day.
The film introduces us to Salvador, a successful moviemaker who is in the midst of a bit of career confusion. He isn’t sure what type of work he wants to pursue or which relationships he may care about. All he knows is he likes his routine, art work and memories and he may have some unfinished business to address in his personal and professional lives. As Salvador considers whether or not to participate in a tribute to a film he once made, he reconnects with a former colleague as well as encounters a past lover, each prompting the man looking in the mirror to reconsider which parts of him are still alive and which may need some attention.
Through his narrative — articulated in Spanish with English subtitles — Almodóvar beautifully explores the layers of memory that we may reconsider or discard as the years pass. As Salvador recalls his many years with his mother, we are never quite sure what he accurately remembers versus what he may imagine. And we aren’t convinced that he knows the difference. With Salvador as our guide, Almodóvar takes us on a wondrous tour about how the soul may change what it remembers in order to preserve its health.
For Antonio Banderas, playing Salvador gives this actor the opportunity to reveal so much more than his English-language films seemed to offer. He conveys the hopes and fears of this man with great restraint, never resorting to predictable on-screen dramatics. As his mother, in flashback sequences, Penelope Cruz makes a powerful impression, as always, making us believe in the freedom she gave her child the confidence to believe.
Film Nutritional Value: "Pain and Glory"
Content: High. This compelling look at a moviemaker’s life offers a thoughtful exploration of how people can confront the accuracy of how they remember their choices.
Entertainment: High. Thanks to a remarkable cast headed by Antonio Banderas, and an insightful script, the film has quite a bit to say about what it takes to authentically confront the past.
Message: High. While the film entertains, as it makes us think, we are left with a clear view of what it takes to live with truth instead of illusion.
Relevance: High. Any opportunity to consider the issues of decisions and their consequences is a welcome visit to the movies.
Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you watch this film with your older children, talk about the realities of embracing the truth that defines life. But this is not a film for the entire family.
Each time Almodóvar makes a film, we know we will get to know a piece of his soul we may not have visited before. With “Pain and Glory,” the moviemaker lets us see into a corner of his life he may still be deciding how to remember.
“Pain and Glory” is in Spanish with English subtitles. The film is rated R for some graphic nudity and language. It runs 1 hour and 53 minutes.