Current Issue #488

Film Review:
Pain & Glory

Pedro Almodóvar’s latest draws inspiration from Federico Fellini’s 8 ½, but lacks that film’s wild surrealism. Instead, Almodóvar opts for a few fanciful trimmings and a great deal of moving melancholy.

Almodóvar, who has recently made painful dramas (Julieta), campy comedies (I’m So Excited!) and thriller-ish horrors (The Skin I Live In), fashions this as an obviously autobiographical work, populates it with some of his closest colleagues, and produces an often wry study of getting old. And yes, even Pedro Almodóvar is getting old.

Antonio Banderas (in his eighth film for this director) is film director Salvador Mallo, a man supposedly in his decline, who tells us all about his many physical ailments (with the help of some diagrams) and hints at his various psychological problems. He’s obviously in a reflective mood and keeps flashing back to his youth in Paterna, where he’s played by Asier Flores and Jacinta, his mother, is beautifully portrayed by (who else?) Almodóvar’s beloved muse Penélope Cruz.

One of Salvador’s breakthrough films from 30 or so years ago, Sabor (or Flavour), has been remastered and is soon to be shown at the Madrid Cinémathèque, and Salvador is asked to do a Q&A with the alienated star of the thing, Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia). And the parallels are many and potent: Almodóvar was himself hitting internationally 30 years ago with films like Matador, Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown and Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!; although we don’t really see much of Sabor, the poster is most Almodóvar-esque; and yes, this director had a nasty falling-out with Banderas back in the day.

Salvador meets with Alberto, who’s still a junkie, and the two share heroin in some uneasily funny scenes before Salvador offers Alberto the chance to perform a stage monologue about his memories of first real love back in the 1980s. They’re tender, erotic and anonymous, and sure enough Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia) is present for a performance, and he later finds Salvador in his apartment, which, in the spirit of further reality-versus-fiction-blurring, is Almodóvar’s own Madrid residence.

There’s plenty going on here and much of it is tantalisingly murky and unsaid, and yet this is still an affectingly human drama featuring gorgeously restrained playing from Antonio, Penélope, Nora Navas as Salvador’s long-suffering ex-wife Mercedes, and the rest of the cast. Some might insist that it lacks a certain ‘Almodóvarian’ edge (there are no fugitive porn stars, for example), and yet the bright colours, gaudy production design and deceptive storytelling demonstrate that it’s very much ‘A Film By Almodóvar’, as the ads naturally proclaim.

And you can be sure of one thing: Pedro might well have recently turned 70, but he’s very much not ‘in decline’ like Salvador Mallo (or indeed Marcello Mastroianni’s Guido Anselmi in 8 ½). No, he’s still in his prime, even if it’s taken more pain than glory to get there.

Reviewer Rating

Pain & Glory (MA) is in cinemas now

DM Bradley

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