Pain and Glory movie review: Pedro Almodovar digs deep into his past in an intimate self-portrait
Pedro Almodovar's Pain and Glory is a painfully honest portrait of an artist in a personal and professional crisis.
castAntonio Banderas, Asier Etxeandia, Penelope Cruz, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Raul Arevalo, Cecilia Roth, Susi Sanchez, Nora Navas, Pedro Casablanc, Julieta Serrano, Cesar Vicente
In the tradition of Truffaut's The 400 Blows, Fellini's Amarcord and Alfonso Cuarón's Roma, Pedro Almodóvar turns back the clock for a fresh cinematic self-interrogation. Pain and Glory is the Spanish auteur's scrapbook of memories culled from his own life — a fictionalised self-portrait which journeys into the heart, mind and soul of a man mesmerised by movies and weakened by numerous maladies.
Pain and Glory has been crafted with a meticulous painter's eye as Almodovar revisits familiar grand themes of love, desire, death, forgiveness and reconciliation. Self-referential to a fault, its distinct character-driven narrative is punctuated by his usual melodramatic sensibilities with equal doses of bittersweetness, nostalgia and optimism.
The film sees Almodovar reunite with long-time collaborators Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz, as he reexamines his formative memories. It follows Madrid-based filmmaker Salvador Mallo (Banderas), who is tormented by various physical ailments, emotional scars and a crippling depression. The film is really more pain, less glory. The sole glory refers to his film, from more than 30 years ago, which is being restored for a retrospective screening at a local cinema. This leads him to reconcile with the film's star, Alberto (Asier Etxeandia), with whom he had a falling out over his performance and heroin use.
However, following their reunion, Mallo ends up picking up Alberto's drug habit. Through flashbacks induced by his heroine trips, various fragments of his memory are weaved together: growing up in the 60s, relocating with his family to a cave in a village in Valencia, discovering he is gay, his brief but passionate romance, the painful breakup that followed, the last years he spent caring for his mother before her death, and most importantly, how filmmaking got him through them all. To move forward, he needs to look back and reassess his past.
As always, Almodovar's visual style is inseparable from his narratives. He uses bright, bold colours despite the dark subject matter. The hypnotic interludes give the film an elegiac feel as it takes us on a journey through its troubled subject’s life.
Banderas delivers an intense performance as another troubled character in an Almodovar film bringing the same level of nuance he has been delivering since Law of Desire. Mallo brings to mind Fellini's Guido Anselmi (from 8 1/2), another director in his twilight years struggling to find inspiration for his next project; Only, Mallo's a lot more reserved and doesn't suffer from an Oedipal complex.
But the character of the mother has been a constant — and influential figure — in Almodovar' filmography. Here, Cruz plays his mother in her younger years while another Almodovar favourite, Julieta Serrano, plays the elderly version. He elicits equally bravura performances from both of them.
However, it's Etxeandia who commands the film's most utterly unmissable scene. In a poignant, meditative monologue (written by Mallo himself), he recounts a passionate love affair between Mallo and his old flame Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia), which ended due to the latter's heroin addiction. It is so powerful Mallo's fear, anxiety and loneliness is palpable.
Pain and Glory is a painfully honest portrait of an artist in a personal and professional crisis. But it's just another straightforward, unadventurous tortured artist tale and fails to provide any fresh insight into Almodovar's life, craft and vision. It fails to passionately engage you in a way that some of his more transgressive comedy dramas have done in the past. Despite enjoyable performances across the board, the melodrama too feels all too familiar and mechanical.
It is not painful to watch, but it is not glorious either.
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