NYFF Review: The luxury of introspection in ‘Pain and Glory’

Pedro Almodóvar has long been considered one of the world’s greatest working directors. He makes films that matter, winning most of the prestigious awards that film society deems important. He’s been tapped as one of Spain’s best filmmakers of all time, a lofty title with heavy expectations.

Almodóvar’s new film, Pain and Glory, has been praised by critics as a steady film rooted in the director’s own life, causing heartstrings to be pulled early and often. Pain and Glory stars Antonio Banderas in an arguably career best performance as director Salvador Mallo, successful in his own right. Almodóvar’s affinity for Penélope Cruz isn’t broken either, as she’s features as young Mallo’s mother.

The film is a moving piece of cinema, featuring unabashed honesty, an important queer character, and lots of drugs. It also give you exactly what the title says: tons of pain and a glimmer of glory. It’s a slow drama, with Banderas holding you captive during every minute of the timeline.

It’s fascinating and Almodóvar chose to make this film. It is far from his first film and very unlikely that it will be his last film. Almodóvar turned 70 this year. He’s been making films since the mid 1970s. He’s a master filmmaker that still is at the top of his game, yet Pain and Glory tells a different story if we’re looking at it with a literal lens.

Due to Almodóvar’s continued success, he had the opportunity to make a film like Pain and Glory. Most filmmakers will never have a chance to make a film as introspective as this one starring Banderas. Almodóvar isn’t most filmmakers. He’s earned this opportunity.

It is a luxury, though. Almodóvar’s semi-autobiographical story is being seen by audiences all over the world. It’s a cultural, critical, and commercial hit. Part of the reason is because of the movie’s greatness, but there’s a large part due to Almodóvar’s name splashed across the front of every poster.

The ability and the luxury to look inwards to a captive audience is something very few in the world would be able to pull off and easily find funding for. The list includes the likes of Martin Scorsese, Stephen Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, and a few select others. It’s immense company, and Almodóvar tell this story in only a way that he can.

As we grow older, it’s natural for us to reflect backwards. It’s natural for us to look at all of the moments in our lives that were significant, or that tilted the scales in one direction or another. Letting the world see those moments play out on the big screen requires an honesty most of us don’t have, and a luxury most of us will never be given.

Pain and Glory is best watched with an open mind and an open heart. For young people, Banderas, the man known for Spy Kids and The Legend of Zorro, will surprise you in the best way imaginable. Almodóvar will make thousands of fans in the next few months. His introspection isn’t for everyone, but his aptitude for displaying his struggles in a meaningful and relatable way is one of a kind.

★★★☆