Pain and Glory Tells a Deeply Personal Story

November 26, 2019 | By Audrey Wang, Illustrations by Nadia Naeem

“Live, I suppose,” states Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) after being asked about his next steps, since he will no longer be making films. In Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory, Salvador, a long-time celebrated filmmaker, has seemingly reached the end of his road. His own body is failing him, everything hurts, and he is at a loss for desire. He is filled with this emptiness that seems to go on forever, and yearns for more, but has no idea what to do. It’s a simple film, filled with countless layers of emotion and history. It’s the tip of the iceberg of the reflection of an aging filmmaker, topped with the best ending seen in a while.

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Illustrations by Nadia Naeem

Throughout the film, we cut back and forth between Salvador’s present and scenes of his childhood with his mother (Penélope Cruz). We see his complex relationship with his mother in the present (Julieta Serrano) who hates it when he “gets that storyteller look in his eye.” Other ghosts from his past appear as well — or rather, he seeks them out. 


Salvador reconnects with a debaucherous actor Alberto (Asier Etxeandia) that he worked with many years ago and finds himself slipping back into bad habits. He even reconnects with a former lover and feels the nostalgia of what could have been. He experiences these ghosts of his past in new ways, with evidence of growth on both sides. Salvador is surprised with the amount of change his peers have gone through, and, in turn, realizes how he has changed over the years.

With multiple parallels which made it seem almost autobiographical, Almodóvar crafts his 21st feature film with care and precision. It’s poignant and deeply personal. It’s a highly specific story that Almodóvar nails — because what does everyone know best, if not their own past?


Salvador is dressed in colorful clothes like Almodóvar himself and lives in a near replica of Almodóvar’s own home. Salvador’s hair is brushed up to resemble Almodóvar’s, leaving the audience to guess as to whether the emptiness Almodóvar feels is similar. 

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Illustrations by Nadia Naeem

Banderas brings an emotional depth to the role with ease. His dark, soulful eyes encompass all the years of emotions, life, love, and pain into one look. His soft demeanor is impeccable and representative of a man who yearns to tell stories that his now aging body won’t let him tell. Each move, each pause, and each prolonged stare shows every ounce of history and emotion that flickers through his mind — all laid out on Banderas’ face. Banderas and Almodóvar are also old friends, Almodóvar having helped Banderas get his bigger breaks in his acting career. His level of intimacy with the director gives Banderas a leg up in portraying this emotional tale. He understands and creates this level of tenderness for the director, for his friend, and for all of the audience. All the pain gathered from years past flicker through his deep, dark eyes in just a moment as he tries to hide it from us, and himself.


No knowledge of Almodóvar’s personal life is needed to feel what he has felt, to feel the pain from a love lost, as clearly stated in the film: “Love may move mountains, but it is not enough to save the person you love.” Almodóvar and Banderas’ friendship clearly comes through just as profoundly as all the sentiments that this film is so desperately trying to hold onto. All that is needed is to get in there and be vulnerable: to let Almodóvar’s story in, just as he opens up in the most intimate and heartfelt way imaginable.