Pain and Glory Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

Salvador Mayo (Antonio Banderas) is an aging director who survived his peak of fame decades ago. He has not been filming for a long time, he is in a creative crisis. Lonely, very sick and unhappy. El Salvador – the concentration of all kinds of diseases: insomnia, chronic pharyngitis, otitis media, reflux, ulcers, bronchial asthma, muscle pain in the lower back, back, knees and shoulders, joint pain, constant ringing in the ears, wheezing and whistling in the lungs, constant migraines, problems with the spine. And then there’s a strange new problem that prevents him from simply swallowing pills: they have to be ground into dust so that he does not choke. And El Salvador is afraid that this is a sign of some terrible disease.

Most of the day, the director is all alone in his luxurious apartment, richly decorated and literally crammed with works of art, suffering and swallowing pills.

At some point, he gets a call from the Madrid cinema center and they say that they want to hold a screening of the restored 30-year-old most famous of his films, to which they plan to invite Salvador himself and the main actor of the film, Alberto Crespo (Asier Echeandia).

The problem is that during the filming, Salvador quarreled to death with Alberto: the actor was drug addicted during the filming and did absolutely not what the director demanded. But so many years have passed, so Salvador decides that he needs to restore relations with Crespo.

He comes to Alberto: at first he does not understand why Salvador came to him at all, but nevertheless lets him into the house. They talk about this and that, after which the actor says that he needs to smoke Chinese dope – heroin. And if Mayo doesn’t like it, then he can go to hell.

El Salvador, who has not really been helped by pills for a long time, asks Alberto to try the drug, and he really liked the effect produced, in which El Salvador manages to get rid of all his illnesses and problems for a while.

The director begins to use drugs, but here, as it always happens, a short-lived positive effect is replaced by a bunch of unpleasant consequences, so that Salvador, instead of solving his problems, only gets new ones.

He tries to analyze his whole life, starting from early childhood – the time when he and his mother Jacinta (Penelope Cruz) were begging and actually lived in a cave. He tries to write down the most important events of his life in the form of some memoirs that are not intended for publication, but Alberto discovers them and, with the permission of Salvador, makes a successful solo performance out of his confessions.

And at some point, Salvador realizes that why not make a new film from the memories of his life against the backdrop of the physical, moral and mental crisis in which he found himself?!


The phrase “Almodovar shot his 8 1/2” really constantly comes to mind when watching this film, so it is not surprising that most critics mention this picture by Federico Fellini in their reviews. A popular director in a creative crisis who made one of his most famous films out of this crisis, here “8 and a half” is the most classic example, although there have been many such films.

However, critics also mention Fellini’s Amarcord, with which this picture has absolutely nothing in common (only Fellini could translate his childhood memories into a film that I first watched as an 11-year-old schoolboy and the whole film asked that this magic be as long as possible never ended), and a couple of critics even mentioned “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”, which really looked like a complete madhouse.

But “8 and a half” – yes, close. But only in terms of the basis of the plot, because any director in such a film tells his own story, and each of them has his own story.

There is no doubt that this film is a kind of confession from one of the most famous Spanish directors, Pedro Almodovar. Almodovar was one of the most striking symbols of Movida, a movement for the emancipation of Spanish culture that appeared after the death of dictator Franco, who for decades planted in the country an atmosphere of strict adherence to Catholic principles, in which people were shot for homosexual relations, and women under no circumstances could get away from their husbands – even in the case when these husbands beat them with mortal combat.

Almodovar in his films showed a new Spain – free, liberated, throwing off the gloomy shackles of Francoism. At the same time, he was never a purely “gay icon”, although gays often appeared in his films (Antonio Banderas, in fact, began his film career playing a charming bespectacled gay in Almodovar) and transvestites. But at the same time, one of the most important themes in Pedro’s films was the theme of the mother and the theme of strong women who never retreat and are reborn to a new life after terrible tragedies. And one of his main actresses, whom he began to shoot in 1997 and with whom she played in seven films, was Penelope Cruz. In this film, she played the mother of the protagonist from the memories of his childhood.

Actor Antonio Banderas, who first appeared in Almodóvar’s films and who, along with Penélope Cruz, became one of the main actors for this director, played the director himself, and this was the eighth Almodóvar film in which Banderas played.

Almodovar knows how to shock and even shock the audience, but “Pain and Glory” is a very calm and intimate picture. The hero of the picture suffers from illnesses and is in a creative crisis, he remembers the most important moments of his life and tries to understand how it all influenced him and his work, he tries to hide from problems and suffering with the help of drugs, but quickly realizes that this only leads to to self-destruction.

Antonio Banderas did a great job in this movie. And I must say that only from the paintings of Almodovar do you understand what this actor is generally capable of. And only Almodovar can achieve such a return from him, no one else. In the American film career, Banderas usually had the roles of a kind of Spanish macho-razmacho, and that’s it, he simply had nothing to play there. From something worthy, one can only recall his role in “Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles”, and the rest is pure entertainment like “Desperado”, “Four Rooms” and “The Legend of Zorro”, interspersed with outright crap like this terrible “Ballistics” : Ex vs Siver”.

Here, the role is fundamentally different. Powerful and dramatic, while Antonio perfectly demonstrates the state of his character without any theatrics (and in American roles, he often overacts, in my opinion) and with a minimum of emotions. His El Salvador looks very authentic – it seems that Banderas literally merged with him and really experiences everything that El Salvador feels.

The theme of the mother – the most important theme for Almodovar – accompanies the whole picture. Young Jacinta was brilliantly played by Penelope Cruz, it’s a pity that there were very few episodes with her. Old Jacinta was portrayed by Julieta Serrano – also a regular actress of Almodovar, who played in six of his films. Well, Sulema acts as an alter ego of Salvador’s mother in the film (for some reason she was called Zulema in the United Statesn dubbing, but this is wrong: there is no “z” sound in Spanish, her name is pronounced as Sulema) – an actress who once starred from El Salvador, and now she took care of him. She was also played by actress Cecilia Roth, who is also very significant for Almodovar: it was she who played the main role in his film All About My Mother, and in total she starred in eight films of the director.

Asier Echeandia has a very interesting role – he portrayed the actor Alberto Crespo, who at one time played the main role in the most famous film of El Salvador. And right here, Alberto, in contrast to Salvador, who is very restrained in his emotions, is the same flame and passion! Which, of course, is somewhat facilitated by many years of drug use – in fact, that is why they quarreled at one time. With Alberto, the episode of the performance-monologue, which the actor performs according to the notes of Salvador, is very interestingly staged. Brightly played and interestingly designed stylistically: a calico-red backdrop and a dazzling white screen against which Alberto reads a monologue. Great actor, very bright and charismatic.

Of course, in such a confessional and in many respects biographical film for the director, one could not do without the theme of homosexuality. However, this topic is touched upon here quite carefully and almost chastely. So, in fact, just as a memory of some old passion of El Salvador, which brought him a lot of suffering due to the drug addiction of his then partner Federico.

Despite the external restraint of the protagonist, a riot of bright colors constantly occurs in the picture, which is quite characteristic of Almodovar’s films, who also likes to use colors that are considered incompatible, such as green and red. And here it is very interesting to look at Salvador’s apartment with its bright colors and a lot of art. As far as I understood from the interview, the film roughly recreated the atmosphere of the apartment of Pedro Almodovar himself.

Great movie, I watched it with great pleasure. Very sincere, honest and open, at the same time quite restrained and not trying to put pressure on the emotions of the audience. Excellent acting work of people, many of whom starred in most of the maestro’s films, who perfectly understand and feel him, and whom the director understands and feels very well. Almodóvar has probably made one of his best films, and he has quite a few absolutely wonderful films.

However, it is well understood that not all viewers will like this picture, as evidenced by some reviews. For people accustomed to purely entertaining films, this film will seem too long and boring: just think, some old man suffers from diseases, and even smokes heroin. Plus, once two men kissed – what kind of disgrace is this, where does Roskomnadzor look at all?

But people who appreciate serious cinematography cannot remain indifferent to this picture, because this is an absolutely wonderful work of a very bright and original director.

PS Watched, of course, in Spanish. Then I listened to the licensed dubbing. I must say that, in my opinion, it was done well, dubbing should not spoil the impression of the picture. Antonio Banderas was voiced by Denis Nekrasov – his voice and manner of speaking are quite similar.


Pain and glory  movie meaning/ Dolor y gloria

Directed by: Pedro Almodovar Cast: Antonio Banderas, Penélope Cruz, Cecilia Roth, Nora Navas, Asier Echeandia, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Julieta Serrano, Cesar Vicente, Asier Flores, Susi Sanchez

Drama, Spain, 2019, 113 min.

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