Pain and Glory, 2019.
Directed by Pedro Almodovar.
Starring Antonio Banderas, Asier Etxeandia, Penélope Cruz, Leonardo Sbaraglia, César Vicente, Asier Flores, Nora Navas, Julieta Serrano and Raúl Arévalo.
A legendary director, Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) reflects on his distinguished life and career, taking in relationships with his mother (Penélope Cruz), problematic leading men (Asier Etxeandia), and former lovers.
This deeply personal and intimate existential character study could only be the work of someone who has experienced the kind of career at the big-beating heart of the narrative. Step forward Pedro Almodovar, he of the ground-breaking All About My Mother, absurd I’m So Excited, and truly astounding The Skin I Live In, can now add this sumptuous fable to his own impressive cinematic achievements, and when taking stock like his central character, be a film he can be extremely proud of.
A tale of a life well lived, we’re privy to this one man’s legacy. Through memories, such as the riverside adoration of his loving mother (the utterly charming Penélope Cruz), or his friendship with the handyman, to the posters and awards which adorn his rather gauche flat, and the people he reconnects with on this journey of self-reflection. As the opening credits roll like some kind of art-exhibition, the film matches this with its series of personal vignettes, with Antonia Banderas guiding us through them in one of the best performances of his career.
He isn’t washed up, forgotten, or any such tropes associated with similar melancholy fare. He’s just taking stock of what he’s achieved, and Banderas gives him the playful wistfulness of a man grateful for what he has, while not beating himself up about the sliding doors aspects of his own story. This normalcy is what makes Pain and Glory feel real, providing it with a foundation of emotion.
A lot of this comes from the relationships with the people he reconnects with: Asier Etxeandia is excellent, the two actors forming quite the double act. There’s the laughs as they ‘chase the dragon‘ together, or perform an absurd Q&A via mobile phone to a live audience. Equally their reconciliation through art, the power of which is a theme that permeates the entire film, provides Pain and Glory with one of its standout scenes, during which Etxeandia performs a stunning addiction monologue. This in turn triggers another reunion for Salvador, one which tugs on the heart-strings.
Pain and Glory is a tapestry, stitching together timelines and characters, all towards a whole that you weren’t quite expecting, but once it’s thrown over you, the effect is one of Almodovar’s warmest and most enjoyable films yet. It’s a wonderful story about how art and cinema is informed by those we love and cherish, and vice-versa.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★
Matt Rodgers – Follow me on Twitter