Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory kicks off the 2019/20 Lotterywest Perth Film Festival in fine style. Visually gorgeous, meditative on life and art without being ponderous, driven by effortlessly masterful dialogue and featuring a superb performance from lead Antonio Banderas.
Spanish auteur writer/director Pedro Almodóvar digs deep in Pain and Glory, switching between past and present to paint a many-faceted portrait of a lead character likely based on himself – ageing and ailing Madrid-based film director, Salvador Mallo (superbly played by Antonio Banderas).
Salvador has known glory, having carved out an acclaimed career as a maverick filmmaker, and enjoyed the hedonistic trappings of success. His apartment is flamboyantly furnished, a riot of colourful avant garde design and art – and long-term Almodóvar cinematographer Salvador Mallo delights in the candy store aesthetic. We delight in his delight. Visually, the film is a treat.
But while Salvador’s home environment is a work of joyful self-expression, age has caught up with him and his glory days are seemingly behind him. He is beleaguered by physical pain (at one point in a soliloquy of self-indulgent misery he lists his ailments at such length that it’s difficult not to laugh). He’s also in psychic pain, which manifests itself as creative shutdown. Physically incapable of directing, he declares that he is unwilling to write if he can’t shoot his own screenplay. Thus, his block is partly self-inflicted, an artistic dummy spit.
It emerges, partly through flashbacks to his childhood, mostly through conversational exchanges (Almodóvar is a master of naturalistic, dramatically charged dialogue, and is at the top of his game here), that there are fundamental aspects of his life, including some primary relationships, that are unresolved. It is no accident that one of his physical symptoms is difficulty swallowing without choking: he has much to digest, and is avoiding beginning the process.
When his film Sabor is re-released, he reconnects with the lead actor Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia). They have not spoken for many years, having fallen out over Salvador publicly criticising Alberto’s performance. Alberto, a regular but controlled heroin user, offers Salvador a hit and is surprised when he accepts.
Salvador finds that heroin relieves his pain, and continues to take it. The drug facilitates his flashing back to meaningful events in his past, such as living in a cave in Valencia with his mother (Penélope Cruz) as a child, and the early emergence of his sexuality, when he develops a crush on a handsome tradesman.
The past and present merge in one of the highlights of the film: a meet-up between Salvador and the love of his life (Leonardo Sbaraglia), who broke his heart when he fled Spain for Argentina to escape heroin addiction and start a new life. They have not seen each other for half a lifetime, but the spark is still there. It’s a poignant scene, and beautifully managed, with more unsaid than said.
As touching as this meet-up is, for the most part Pain and Glory doesn’t fully tap into the emotional power inherent in the subject matter. This is my only criticism. Otherwise, it’s one of Almodóvar’s best in my view. The ending, especially, is a mind-boggling masterstroke, a surprise last-piece-of-the-jigsaw that instantly changes the time-frame of the film and draws all elements together. Don’t miss.
Movie Website: https://www.sonyclassics.com/painandglory/
Pain and Glory screening dates (2019-20 Lotterywest Perth Film Festival):
Somerville: Mon 25 Nov – Sun 1 Dec, 2019, 8pm
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