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Pain and Glory

Movie review by
Jennifer Green, Common Sense Media
Pain and Glory Movie Poster Image
Mature semi-autobiographical tale best for Almodovar fans.
  • R
  • 2019
  • 113 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Artists find inspiration in the world around them; for some, process of creating gives life meaning. Families, friends nurture each other, love each other even when they don't agree. Drugs can ease pain but are also addictive, can lead to serious withdrawal symptoms. Medical professionals should be trusted. Sometimes love isn't enough to save someone from their own problems. Salvador says that he believes in God, prays when he's in pain but is an atheist when pain subsides.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Characters care deeply for one another. A mother loves her son, puts his interests above hers, even if she doesn't always approve of his choices -- he loves her back despite disapproval. An assistant helps her employer in every aspect of his life, including accompanying him to doctor appointments, recommending that his maid help him tie his shoes since he can't bend over, asking her to puree his food. Salvador makes peace with an actor he fell out with publicly decades ago. The actor struggles with addiction but shares his drugs with Salvador, despite knowing how impossible they've been for him to quit. Two past lovers reunite, reaffirm their significance in each other's lives.

Violence

Characters self-inflict the short- and long-term harms of drug abuse. When Salvador goes to buy drugs, he sees a street fight where one man's leg is cut by another man's machete. Salvador highlights a passage in a book that alludes to suicide. Salvador is still getting over his mother's death four years later.

Sex

Full-frontal male nudity. Young Salvador experiences sexual awakening in the company of an older student; old Salvador pines for a past lover. Written works talk about "making love" and two people spending a weekend together in bed. Two characters kiss and discuss getting excited by it.

Language

This film was viewed for review in Spanish. Allowing for variations in translations, some words and expressions to expect in subtitles, on top of slang terms for heroin, are "damn," "f--k," "s--t," "piss," "a--hole," "f-g," "pagan," "by God," "gypsies," and "d--k."

Consumerism

Lacoste polo, Madrid taxis.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Salvador gets addicted to heroin; he smokes it, snorts it, uses it in powder form to coat cigarettes. He also takes a regimen of painkillers, which he crushes up and dissolves in liquids. He and Federico drink several shots of tequila together; he also drinks liquor straight out of a bottle. Description of Federico's fall into heroin addiction decades earlier. Alberto has learned to regulate how much heroin he can take in order to survive, calling his decades-long addiction "an enslavement." Past cocaine consumption is referenced. Cigarette smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Pain and Glory is a drama from popular Spanish director Pedro Almodovar. The film addresses mature topics like aging and death, drug addiction, and desire. And it returns to themes -- some autobiographical -- that are present in many of his films, including dominant mother figures, Catholic schooling, Spain's urban-rural divide, the power of the movies, sexual identity, creative drive, and love. Some subjects will fly over younger heads, like the long medical explanations of various age-related ailments and how such ailments affect people psychologically, but be ready for full-frontal male nudity, passionate kissing, a mother's aging and death, and characters casually snorting, smoking, and discussing heroin. The lead character (Antonio Banderas) is also addicted to pain pills. Language in the original Spanish version includes variations on "damn," "f--k," "s--t," "f-g," and more.

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What's the story?

Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) is an acclaimed film director who's semi-retired from his craft due to age-related physical problems, hence the title PAIN AND GLORY. Further depressed because he can no longer make movies, Salvador seeks out the estranged star of one of his earlier films, inviting him to present the film with him in public. The actor (Asier Etxeandia) has a heroin addiction, and Salvador dives headlong into the drug as a means to stave off his mental and physical anguish. His addled state sends him dreamily back in time to important moments in his childhood, when his mother (Penelope Cruz) made sure he had access to opportunities beyond their humble means and rural location. A reencounter with a past lover (Leonardo Sbaraglia) finally reignites Salvador's creative juices and motivates him to take better care of himself, allowing him to return to his life's work and passion, filmmaking.

Is it any good?

This semi-autobiographical drama will captivate Almodovar's fans and attract followers of Spain's two biggest film exports, Banderas and Cruz. But it's unlikely to bring the director many new or younger followers. Its natural audience, beyond existing fans, is people of a certain age who are susceptible to themes about aging, lost loves, and nostalgia for the past. Banderas, who won the best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for his work in Pain and Glory, offers a subtle and vulnerable performance. He sports a look and mannerisms that are purposefully reminiscent of Almodovar's, although the director insists the film isn't entirely autobiographical (in interviews, he's talked about some of what was invented, including the heroin use). Cruz, in turn, explodes on screen in a role that may remind audiences of her Oscar-nominated performance in the director's 2006 Volver. Together with rising Spanish star Etxeandia and a memorable, understated scene with Argentina's Sbaraglia, the actors carry the movie, and their on-screen magnetism is impossible to deny.

Fans will enjoy picking out cameos by the director's producer-brother, regular "chicas Almodovar" (Cecilia Roth, Julieta Serrano), and up-and-coming Spanish stars (like pop flamenco artist Rosalía, who sings in an opening scene), as well as spotting omnipresent literary and cinematic references. All this is intentional: Almodovar films blend together, with characters, storylines, scenes, settings, themes, and references mingling throughout his filmography, providing endless fodder for enthusiastic cinema fans and critics. So much repetition can get, well, a little repetitive after 20+ films, yet the director remains a darling of the international circuit, an icon at home in Spain, and a regular presence at Cannes, where Pain and Glory premiered to rave reviews.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what's behind the film's title, Pain and Glory. What different kinds of "pain" and "glory" are reflected in the story?

  • Why does Salvador decide to try heroin? Do you think it's just out of "curiosity," like he tells Alberto? When Alberto says his drug addiction has been "an enslavement," what do you think he means?

  • If you've seen other films by Pedro Almodovar, how does this one compare? What similar elements did you notice in terms of themes, settings, references, and actors? The director has called the film's style "more restrained and austere" than in the past. Do you see that?

  • How do the village scenes contrast with the city scenes? Did you notice differences in color schemes or tone? How do these relate to changes between childhood and old age, or between memories of the past and realities of the present?

  • Artist Juan Gatti designs many of the credits for Almodovar films and also created the animated graphics in Pain and Glory. What did you think of these? How did they fit with the rest of the film?

Movie details

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