Spanish master filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar is undoubtedly one of the most influential filmmakers to have emerged out of Spain. His movies are often underlined by their visually stimulating cinematography, edgy subject matter, heartbreaking stories, evocative background music, clever plot twists, arresting performances, and strong undercurrents of humor. But his most recent film Pain and Glory is very different from all his other films. Nominated for two Academy Awards, Pain and Glory tells the story of an aging film director suffering from chronic illness and writer’s block. In many ways, it can be described as a semi-autobiographical film. The central role of Salvador Mallo is played by Almodóvar’s long term collaborator Antonio Banderas. The film also stars Asier Etxeandia, Leonardo Sbaraglia, César Vicente, Nora Navas, Asier Flores, Julieta Serrano, and Penélope Cruz in pivotal roles.
Watching Antonio Banderas suffer in Pain and Glory is like experiencing pain and suffering first hand. It’s nigh impossible to imagine that this is the same man who once played Zorro. While some actors age well, others don’t. Banderas has not just aged well but he seems to have really blossomed as a performer. Towards the late ‘90s, I started experiencing a growing inclination towards Hollywood movies. I was on my way to attaining puberty and for some reason the homegrown cinema was quickly losing its magic. And for the next decade and a half it remained that way until I finally rediscovered my love for Bollywood during the early 2010s. Now, The Mask of Zorro was amongst the most memorable Hollywood films that I watched during my high school days. I remember watching the Hindi-dubbed version on Sony Max. Every weekend the channel used to telecast a different Hollywood film, dubbed in Hindi, of course. It was while watching The Mask of Zorro that I first fell in love with Banderas. Later on, I watched his other films such Original Sin, Desperado, The Legend of Zorro, and The Skin I Live In, among others.
So, naturally, it gave me immense pleasure when I learnt that he won the Best Actor award at Festival de Cannes 2019 for his deeply nuanced performance in Pain and Glory. It was really an icing on the cake that Banderas also got nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role at the 2020 Oscars. Banderas’ portrayal of Salvador Mallo is as good as a performance can be. Few actors can channelize the inner pain so well in front of a motion-picture camera. And, Banderas, with his mesmerizing performance, seems to have surpassed most (the heart attack he suffered a few years ago has had a profound effect on him). Please do check it out if you haven’t already and try to hold back your tears while you are at it. Also, the complexities of the mother-son relationship are delicately examined in the film.
Coming back to Almodóvar, most master filmmakers need just a scene to showcase their greatness. And the greatest ones amongst them can achieve it with the slightest of efforts. That’s exactly what Pedro Almodóvar achieves with the final scene of Pain and Glory. All he needs is for the camera to pull back a little. Voilà: his undisputed mastery over the cinematic medium stands revealed! It’s something he exhibits all along the film, simultaneously playing with time and space as well as the expectations of the viewer without the viewer even getting the slightest of the idea that he/she is being toyed with.