Pain and Glory
Antonio Banderas, Asier Etxeandia, Penélope Cruz, Cecilia Roth
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……an honest and remorseful examination of a man who has had more regrets than delights – more pain than glory. An 8 1/2 style framework where Almodóvar can examine what if, and what is.
In his 22nd film, titan of Spanish cinema Pedro Almodóvar goes for the jugular, literally: a thinly veiled meditation on filmmaking itself with neck pains, choking, repeated back complaints – and ample autobiographical flourishes.
Salvador Mallo (an excellent Antonio Banderas) is a successful, aging and largely retired film director living with a cache of paintings and a tendency to choke on all solid foods.
Salvador has enough money – and enough going for him, seemingly, to stay retired for the rest of life. Except the reason he isn’t working is due to a malaise triggered by a combination of factors (ill health, depression). Salvador didn’t retire voluntarily.
Running into old friend and actor Zulema by chance (multiple Almodóvar collaborator Cecilia Roth), Salvador meets with his former star actor Alberto (Asier Etxeandia), whom he hasn’t spoken to for decades. Haggard looking, Alberto offers Salvador heroin – which punctures his malady. The two begin talking and reminiscing.
Alberto gets wind of a revealing theatre work Salvador once had in mind entitled Addiction, about a former lover who abused drugs. Alberto begs Salvador to give him the play to perform and Salvador agrees – on the proviso he is not credited or involved.
Alberto stages the performance, the work is lauded, and suddenly the decrepit Salvador is awoken from his dismay – loved ones and past lovers take in the performances. They recognise the characters. Salvador is returned to memories of his youth which we see in flashbacks, to formative moments with his mother (a vital Penélope Cruz) – his earliest memories.
The director begins to remember his hopes, aspirations, dreams. The pieces of years gone by and his present-day begin to coalesce and collide. The malaise is shattered.
So begins an honest and remorseful examination of a man who has had more regrets than delights – more pain than glory. An 8 1/2 style framework where Almodóvar can examine what if, and what is.
Featuring a film within a film, as well as a theatre work addressed to the camera, the movie swims nimbly (and possibly too loosely) between fantasy and reality, zig-zagging back and forth from past to present. Interlacing a tapestry of frozen memories, doubts, memories and old flames.
Replete with its author’s typical flair for audacious set design and costuming, Pain and Glory swaggers with this flamboyant and idiosyncratic style audiences have come to know from the man behind Volver.
Aided by regular cinematographer José Luis Alcane and production designer Antxón Gómez, the self-awareness and personal nature of the latest creation by Almodóvar, now 69, is doubly enhanced by the parallels of his onscreen protagonist’s eccentricities – played out by his frequent on-screen muse. This is evinced by the ornamented home of the film’s fictional director.
Banderas gives a singular performance as this confounded architect, fluctuating between earnestness and fervour, cheerfulness and gloom.
If there is a complaint about Pain and Glory, its number of jumps back in time tend to undercut the momentum of the story, which has several disjunctive moments in its near two-hour runtime.
Almodóvar may have stated previously that he loathes conventional “biopics”. One senses in a pared-back work like this, avowedly one of his most personal and nearly confessional, this may be the closest he gets to making one.