Movie Review: Pain and Glory (Dolor y gloria)

Imagine if Martin Scorsese made a semi-autobiographical film and cast it with Robert De Niro in the starring role and had his go-to actors like Leonardo DiCaprio, Sharon Stone, Mark Wahlberg, Cybil Shepherd, Ellen Burstyn and Joe Pesci in support. The film’s score, by frequent collaborator Robbie Robertson, would include tracks from Al Martino and Bob Dylan. That’s what we have with filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar’s latest effort, PAIN AND GLORY, and it’s as thoughtfully textured as we have come to expect from the Spanish auteur.

The famous Spanish filmmaker, Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas, LIFE ITSELF; THE 33), is experiencing an existential crisis. His body is starting to give out on him and he’s struggling to finish writing the screenplay to his next film. At the same time comes news that one of his early films has been remastered for its 30th anniversary and a festival has invited both him and the film’s star, Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia), to the event to celebrate its re-release. Mallo decides to use the invitation as an opportunity to reconnect with Crespo, with whom he had a falling out while making that film. Crespo, who is a heroin addict, introduces Salvador to the drug, and the filmmaker finds that it not only eases his physical pain, it helps him recall his formative experiences as a child when he and his mother, Jacinta (Penélope Cruz, EVERYBODY KNOWS; LOVING PABLO; MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS), moved to the impoverished village of Paterna, to join his father who had moved there after being released from Franco’s army.

Almodóvar’s stories often deal with subjects that are near and dear to him but PAIN AND GLORY is clearly about him. Though Almodovar calls this story a work of fiction, Banderas, as Mallo, is his avatar right down to the bushy, spiky hair and homosexuality. Salvador Mallo is an anagram of sorts of the director’s name and even Mallo’s clothes and apartment are Almodóvar’s own. More interestingly, though, is that Banderas’ avatar is Crespo. Just like in the movie, Almodóvar, who cast Banderas in five of his films, had a falling out with the actor that lasted for 21 years. (The two patched things up when the pair teamed up for a sixth time in THE SKIN I LIVE IN in 2011.) In addition to Banderas and Cruz, the latter having starred in three of the director’s previous films, PAIN AND GLORY also features actresses Cecilia Roth (as “Zulema”, Mallo’s assistant) and Julieta Serrano (as the elderly “Jacinta”), both of whom starred in his earlier films as well. (The film’s cinematographer, José Luis Alcaine, and music composer, Alberto Iglesias, both worked with the director many times before too.)

But what is Almodóvar trying to say with this film? Does the 70 year old see himself approaching the end of his career and, perhaps, his life as well? While the director does concede that some scenes in PAIN AND GLORY are torn from the pages of his life story, much of the film’s action and dialogue never happened to him. So, while no, he never lived in a cave when he was a boy, he did come to learn of his sexuality at that age. Unlike Mallo, though, who is addicted to heroin and pain medication, Almodóvar was never into drugs and says that his addiction is his need to tell stories. In fact, he is already working on a few new projects.

Whether PAIN AND GLORY is a self-portrait or an imagined work, Almodóvar gives audiences plenty to think about as Mallo reflects on his life and how he got to who and where he is today. Banderas delivers a powerfully understated performance that ranks among his best work to date. The jury at the Cannes Film Festival thought so too, bestowing him with the Best Actor award. As for the film, Spain has selected it as their entry for next year’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. We’ll have to wait until December to see if it makes the short list.

PAIN AND GLORY is a fabulous film. Go see it!

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, September 27th, 8:30 am HK time!

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