Welcome to the 2019 CIRCUIT CONSIDERATIONS series. Highlighting the very best in film, acting, and technical achievements for the past 12 months that awards voters may need help remembering. Each day a different writer will make their plea for a specific film in a respective category. If you miss one, click the tag “Circuit Considerations 2019,” and if you have some suggestions, include them in the comments below!
It’s criminal that no Pedro Almodóvar film has ever been nominated for Best Production Design at the Oscars. All of his films have featured such gorgeous, vibrant sets that serve as the pop backdrop to his wildly involving melodramas. The splashes of color and clashes of styles speak even louder than the performances. Almodóvar’s latest film, “Pain and Glory,” features sets and styles similar to those in past films. However, they also convey the differences between the childhood and adulthood of his lead character, Salvador (Antonio Banderas), a successful director contemplating his next steps.
Production Designer Antxón Gómez has worked on seven Almodóvar films, starting with “All About My Mother” in 1999. This level of partnership proves useful, as “Pain and Glory” positively recalls so many of Almodovar’s past works. The red in Salvador’s glorious apartment recalls the red used throughout “All About My Mother,” particularly in Cecilia Roth’s raincoat. The small towns in Salvador’s childhood recall the vibrant town in “Volver” where Penelope Cruz dragged her boyfriend’s body about. From his wild 80s filmography to the beauty of his films in this millennium, Almodóvar has given us some of the most provocative, hilarious and stunning images in film. Any film would be wise to lean into this illustrious career.
It would be reductive to say a film’s production design is measured by how nice the protagonist’s house looks. Still, Salvador’s bright and warm apartment would make even Nancy Meyers’ eyes bulge. Like so many spaces in Pedro Almodóvar’s filmography, they are designed to look beautiful and dramatic at the same time. The retro furniture pieces all feel cobbled together from a life as long and varied as Salvador’s career. The dramatic red, as mentioned above, makes every scene in rooms like the kitchen absolutely pop. While beautiful, the bright colors of Salvador’s apartment bring as much stress and anxiety as they do warmth and vigor. The apartment was said to have been styled after Almodovar’s own apartment. This explains why every bit of the apartment seems to have added emotional depth and meaning to it.
Contrast with Alberto’s apartment, where Salvador experiments with heroin as he mends their relationship. The scenes are often shot outside, where one can breathe and feel the open air. As the two adversaries clear the air, Salvador feels more at peace, rather than haunted and surrounded by his demons and past works. The central conflict between director (Salvador) and actor (Alberto) even has traces of Almodóvar and Banderas’ own feud, though that was more around career choices than on-set behavior.
While the modern scenes feel so specifically Pedro, the childhood sections of the film give context not only to Salvador, but to all of Almodóvar’s filmography. Salvador’s mother, Jacinta (Penelope Cruz), relocates her family to a cave that is to be their home. Never has poverty looked so chic. Jacinta paints the cave white to give the cold cave a proper home feel. Throughout the house, she adds small decorations and plants to trick her mind into thinking she’s in her curated, luxurious home. The cave dwelling is centered by a sun roof where light flows throughout the house. This design provides a spotlight for a pivotal memory that feels so specific to an Almodovar film. The perceived artifice of the production design only feels more perfect once the credits roll.
With “Pain and Glory,” everything is a family affair. The plot and characters all feel ripped from the experiences and psyche of the master, Almodóvar. Casting choices big (Banderas and Cruz) and small (say hello to cameos from Cecilia Roth and Julieta Serrano) only further accentuate this familiarity. This makes “Pain and Glory” such an apt opportunity to reward Antxón Gómez for his production design. It not only honors him for his work on the film, but for how it draws upon his career’s work with Pedro Almodóvar. Without his sets and design, the film community would have markedly less color.