Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 2, 2020)
Noted filmmaker Pedro Almodovar returns via 2019’s Pain and Glory. Here he pairs with long-time collaborator Antonio Banderas for the first time since 2013’s I’m So Excited.
Aging filmmaker Salvador Mallo (Banderas) finds himself in declining health. He also struggles to create vital new work, a fact that hits home when his beloved early movie Sabor gets re-released.
As Mallo attempts to cope with these issues, he reconnects with Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia). The star of Sabor, Crespo also finds himself far from his peak, so the men experience common woes.
Mallo suffers from chronic pain, so when Crespo introduces him to heroin, he quickly takes to the narcotic. As Mallo tries to move forward, he also has visions of his past that influence his present.
Banderas earned his initial fame in the US due to his work with Almodovar, but obviously the actor became much better-known here than the director did. Oh, Almodovar received cult attention and love from some film buffs – along with a Screenplay Oscar for 2002’s Hable con ella - but he never broke through to the American mainstream.
Though unlike other Spanish-language filmmakers such as Alfonso Cuarón, Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro González Iñárritu, I don’t get the sense Almodovar ever really tried to make that shift. Perhaps he attempted to “go Hollywood” and US studios didn’t want him, but whatever the case, he stayed with Spanish productions.
Given its story of a filmmaker in decline, it seems somewhat ironic that Glory netted Almodovar his biggest US success in years. No, it didn’t make much money here, but it got a lot of positive attention and earned Banderas his first-ever Oscar nomination.
Both the film and Banderas prove worthwhile, though I don’t think they merit the praise they’ve accumulated. An erratic piece, Glory varies from engaging and memorable to flat and forgettable in nearly equal measure.
All at once Glory feels too long and too short. For what we see, the movie tends to seem excessively elongated, as we get stuck in scenes that lack much impact or apparent purpose too much of the time.
On the other hand, I get the impression Glory would benefit from a much longer cut that would allow its themes and characters more room to breathe. With added material to flesh out the wide-ranging story, the segments I don’t much like as-is could connect in a more natural way and not feel as out of place within a broader context.
Glory often feels like a few movies crammed into one. We get the aging artist who copes with his mortality and decreased creativity as well as childhood memories and reflections on life choices.
Any one of these could create its own full-length tale, and this means none of them really get their due. Various notions and themes come and go so quickly, we never latch onto them the way we should.
In particular, I think the flashbacks to young Salvador (Asier Flores) and his mother Jacinta (Penélope Cruz) suffer the most from their brevity. These provide the movie’s most intriguing elements, as we see the formative years of Salvador’s life, but they don’t take up enough cinematic real estate to fulfill.
Almodovar manages to connect the dots between old Salvador and young well enough, but I still can’t help but feel the movie gives us too much of a rough sketch. We just don’t dig into the various elements well enough to allow for much dimensionality.
This persists with other domains as well, as Glory tends to take on an episodic air. Occasionally it feels like a mini-series edited down to 113 minutes, as the sections can seem somewhat independent of each other and not as well-realized as I’d like.
All of this leaves us with an oddly unaffecting semi-memoir. We get an impression of the important moments in Salvador’s life but without much real power or emotional charge. Glory comes with occasional moments that succeed, but the end result becomes too scattered to fully work.