MiniReview: "Pain and Glory" (film)

César Vicente as the labourer who awakens a young boy's homosexual desire. Now, why would that be, I wonder . . .  

Another Almodóvar film! The last film you reviewed was one of his.


Yes, but this is the most recent one (2019). I actually had to get myself out to a cinema to see it.


And was it worth the trip?

Oh, it was lovely. I sat there in the newly installed comfy seat with my caffé latte and had the most wonderful two hours, swept away to Spain.


So what’s this one about?

It’s the story of Salvador, a film director of a certain age who is beset by any number of bothersome health problems and hasn’t made a film in a while. As we follow him in the present day, as he struggles to find meaning in his life in the absence of creativity, we see flashbacks to his childhood in a small village, dominated by his lovely mother and a (very sexy) young man whom he teaches to read and write.


What did you love about this film, apart from the sexy young man?

It has all the things you’d expect in an Almodóvar film: intelligence, sensitivity, humanity, good acting, perfect musical choices, and those wonderful colours! There are some fabulous graphic sequences as well. But I loved the film above all for examining the life of an aging gay man, dominated by that most insidious of issues, loneliness. There’s a very moving sequence in which Salvador is reunited with a lover whom he hasn’t seen in over 30 years. It’s a rare depiction of the sexuality of older gay men, and it’s very erotic (that kiss!) and also desperately melancholy. I ate it up.


Is (homo)sexuality a major theme in the film?

I’d say it’s omnipresent and yet not obvious, like a subtle perfume. Apart from the encounter with the old lover I just mentioned, the character of Salvador isn’t preoccupied by a search for love at this point in his life. So while he’s gay, sex plays a somewhat secondary role in the modern-day sequences. At the same time, the fact that he’s alone, has no children, has a “chosen family” relationship with his female assistant/manager, and was so attached to his mother and is still suffering the after-effects of her death four years later—these are all common features of gay men’s lives, especially older men. On the other hand, the flashback sequences with the sexy neighbour whom Salvador is tutoring are homoerotic through and through, even if they’re not sexual as such. Those episodes are very much a depiction of the awakening of (homo)sexual longing. And they are fabulous.


So it’s pretty obvious you really liked this. Stars?

Two stars. This is the most serious Pedor Almodóvar film I’ve seen, and I loved the ruminative maturity of it. He’s a great gay director, perhaps the greatest, and this is an important film from him—perhaps his most naturalistic film yet depicting a gay life. Despite the dark overtones of the film, Almodóvar remains life-affirming. This is necessary viewing.

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