A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
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?
- In theaters: October 4, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: January 14, 2020
- Cast: Antonio Banderas, Penelope Cruz, Asier Etxeandia, Leonardo Sbaraglia
- Director: Pedro Almodovar
- Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Friendship
- Run time: 113 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: drug use, some graphic nudity and language
- Last updated: April 24, 2020
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