Antonio Banderas received his first Oscar nomination for portraying Salvador Mallo in Pain and Glory.
Pedro Almodóvar that explores the later life and early childhood of a filmmaker.
Pain and Glory, firmly in the vein of 8 1/2, is the auteur director examining his past, his present, his films, his faults and his passions, all with a level of fictionalization that we can only speculate on. Fittingly Almodóvar calls upon his long time collaborator, and one of the most famed actors who came up through his films, in Antonio Banderas to play this form of himself. An actor who began in more dramatic films before finding his path in action films when it came to international recognition, though not he has mostly shifted back towards providing character actor work in lower budget films. His most recent notable leading turns in this decade returning to working with Almodóvar, who he had not worked with since the 80's until returning with The Skin I Live IN, and now here which earned Banderas the CANNES best actor award along with the Oscar nomination. This also being a return to a different type of performance for Banderas, as much of his English language performances have mostly been based around his charm and energy. Not that those are bad things, but they certainly created a certain limit on his range. Here he gets to push that a bit more in his attempt to embody Pedro Almodóvar through Salvador Mallo, who basically is reliving a whole lot of his past, both in memory, and by checking in with old acquaintances, collaborators and friends, built around revisiting one of his films for a retrospective.
As typical for an Almodóvar film, the storytelling is purposefully scattered around, so Banderas likely has the least screentime out of all his fellow Oscar nominees, this as we have many a cut away to the life of the young Salvador with his mother, little narrative detours (which still does often feature Banderas through narration) and devoted scenes to the others characters in Salvador's life. The film is at its best though when it does focus closely upon Banderas who gives a subtle transformation into the part. This as if you just take a cursory glance, you might not think too much of it, but Banderas does take subtle measures to become his own director. Now some are from that director himself in his wavy unkempt hair, and his typically casual clothing in most circumstances, but it also extends into Banderas's own work. These are very subdued mannerisms that Bandears takes on from the man himself in just the way he carries himself, how he moves his arm with a certain expressiveness at all times, and his sort of physical posture that is always a bit retiring. Banderas's vocal work even quietly evokes the man with just slight changes in intonation. Again these are all subtle qualities, that one would likely miss if not aware of the director himself, but Banderas does use them nicely to most importantly craft the sense of the man that Salvador Mallo is through this subdued transformation into Almodóvar.
Banderas's performance then realizes this manner of the man that then we meet in this awkward period of his life and his career. This with Banderas exuding just an exasperation towards life in general as he goes about the motions to see Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia), his former leading man with whom he's had a falling out with. Etxeandia playing really the pseudo version of Banderas himself, as the important former collaborator early in his career with whom they'll soon renew a working relationship with, though it doesn't appear Banderas and Almodóvar ever had a falling out, but I digress. Banderas delivers the striking weariness within the reunion making even his sudden interest in smoking heroin along with his former leading man, something that seems natural within the character by conveying this general disinterest towards his life, that would prompt such a foolish action. This nonetheless though creates enough of a rekindling of a friendship with Alberto, as the two proceed to get high rather than attending to the retrospective on their film. He instead does a call in interview, that is a wonderful playful bit of acting in his quite reactions of genuine appreciation at the applause for his film, towards the switch towards a slight annoyance as questions interfere with his drug snorting. His actual answering of a question though Banderas portrays effectively initially as the recitation of a point made many times, that slowly breaks down into a darker emotional disdain for his leading man that suggests the old wound has not healed.
Banderas is compelling here in managing to realize much of the man's history within his performance, while also portraying his new "adventure" into drug addiction from that previous casual use. Banderas's work grants enough vividness within the idea of this personal exploration that he very effectively maneuvers, as always typical to his director, often random storytelling flow. Banderas though is able to capture what needs to be found in the moment by having a firm grasp of the character at all times. This particularly in the idea of this sort of drifting passion that is realized within his eyes that exasperation marked by disappointments and belief in failure, however his words still evoke palatable interest towards renewing his creative spark. This particularly in as he makes up with Alberto by bringing him a new monologue, where Banderas brings this sage like determination, though still worn by drugs within this, as he attempts to instruct his actor, with rather good advice, such as the technique of holding back tears as opposed to outright crying is indeed far more effective in most circumstances. This as we see as one of the most striking scenes, of Mallo's autobiographical monologue on love, in the film is given to Etxeandia as the actor rather than Banderas as the director. Nonetheless the monologue opens up a new avenue to the often bitter filmmaker, which is essential for Banderas's performance as he is able to show us a bit less guarded side of Salvador.
Banderas makes the most of the moment where Mallo gets the call from his old lover, and Banderas's portrayal of his change in expression is marvelous. This as he becomes filled with the sense of love even in hearing the voice, and his eyes are gripped by an old affection that is remarkable. This too employing the almost but not quite crying method, that just really does make all the greater of an impact. When Banderas meets the man it is a terrific bit of acting from him as we see so much of the reserve lost, in his physicality that expresses this nervousness in his sudden movements, and his eyes that are marked by much anticipation. Although there are no flashbacks to this romance, we are granted a vivid sense of it through Banderas's performance. Banderas is wonderful in the way he looks throughout the scene is with this evocation of the energy of a younger man, and far more youthful romantic. This as he finds a chemistry that is built upon this sense of mutual appreciation for the past in the moment. Banderas though also does deliver enough hesitation in moments though in his words that are remarked with a bit of pain that conveys a regret and loss associated with the time that has passed. It is beautifully drawn work from Banderas as he show this combination slowly become unbearable throughout the scene as he gradually creates this growing emotion and loss of that reserve that defined the man earlier in the film. This scene builds on that rather brilliantly as Banderas uses that to show just how paramount this relationship is by creating this sense of change towards the life of a younger man through this reunion. This likely would be the emotional climax for most films, but given who the writer/director is, the film continues as it segues past this to visit Mallo facing his sudden drug addiction, and another, earlier flashback, dealing with the relationship with his aged and ailing mother. These scenes are simpler of just a son appreciating his mother, yet Banderas definitely finds the poignancy within these moments in conveying the heartbreak at the anticipated loss, and the unconditional love for her. Banderas is incredible in these scenes by showing Mallo without any pretense whatsoever and just the genuine man beneath it all. The drug addiction on the other hand is kind of glossed over in the scheme of the film, which wraps up pretty quickly. There is enough time however for Antonio Banderas to make the appropriate impression in the role to realizes a captivating portrait of the unique artist that is Salvador Mallo or Pedro Almodóvar. This is as the potency of his own work is never lost within the film's scattered narrative, to the point I actually wish it had just honed in more closely on the present story, as it still stands though this is a remarkable performance by Antonio Banderas that allows him to be more than just the charming or energetic Spaniard.