The Go-Between, L.P.Hartley’s 1953 novel, features once of the most iconic lines in literature – ‘The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.’ It’s a sentiment that remains universal and evocative; and it’s a sentiment shared by Pain & Glory. For writer-director Pedro Almodóvar’s latest work, released three years after his extraordinary Julieta, is all about how our present day can be guided by the past. How the actions of our past selves, and even the actions of those around us, can be formative in ways we may not fully realise.
That’s the case for Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas), a successful director who finds himself reflecting on his past choices as they collide with his present day. Having dealt with a multitude of personal traumas he finds himself in search for some semblance of closure, even if he can’t admit it to anyone, least of all himself.
Almodóvar’s rather elegiac, and immensely personal, film explores these concepts beautifully, weaving the past and present together in a manner that feels wholly believable. Cinema often has characters retrospectively reflecting in a neat linear manner, with the first visit to the past starting at ‘the beginning’ with clear thematic links to the present day. Then the next visit to the past is what happened next, and so on.
In reality, our moments of introspection occur sporadically and unexpectedly, often triggered by the most unlikely of sights, sounds or smells. We don’t first think of being a toddler, then a child, then a teen. We don’t always pick up an object and find ourselves starring into the distance recalling its exact origin story that has some explicit relation to the now. Our memories are a kaleidoscope of moments and feelings, the reflections of which produce constantly changing patterns and meanings. And that’s the elliptical approach utilised here by Almodóvar. Salvador’s visits to his past aren’t sequential, often the meanings of them and how they relate to what is happening currently in his life are revealed long after they occur.
What prevails throughout is the sense of yearning. Yearning for a purpose, meaning or reason – to anything, most essentially to the actuality of being alive. He’s become so adrift from everything and everyone, riddled with constant pains due to all manner of aliments, he’s come to find each day as more of a burden than a blessing. He is the embodiment of existential angst and ennui; yearning for a connection yet unable to let himself experience anything beyond his own turmoil.
Courtesy of Almodóvar’s masterful direction and a career finest performance from Banderas, we feel every moment with Salvador. The pain, the glory and everything in-between.
Pain & Glory is in UK cinemas from August 23rd.