As the years roll by and our wealth of life experience builds, it is notoriously tough to resist the temptation to self-reflect. Allow a waft of nostalgia to fill the air. Dissecting specific situations with a fresh and presumably wiser pair of eyes, that only unlocks new perspectives you originally couldn’t comprehend, potentially healing the emotional wounds that have accumulated over time.
A Spanish supremo who has founded a sparkling career on mesmeric melodrama delivered by vibrant characters whose richness is mirrored by the glossy worlds they inhabit. Pain and Glory is the work of a far mellower Pedro Almodovar, where its key character may be fearing a sense of decline, but it forms the basis for a soul-stirring catharsis that drives home why its director remains in the top-tier.
Nimbly leaping between the free-spirited nature of his 1960’s childhood and his debilitating modern life, the glazed look of Antonio Banderas’ Salvador Mallo is all too telling. Confronted by an array of ailments that have left him rather depressed, a ray of light blinds him, like his younger self swooning at the sky in the cave now makeshift Paterna home he grows accustomed to, with Penelope Cruz’s realist mother and Raul Arevalo’s struggling father.
A film director desperately in search of inspiration, it may just lurk in the revisit of one of his earlier efforts where he squabbled with his wavy-haired leading man Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia), with the promise of a Q+A restoration screening of the film looming large. Setting him on a path of reconciliation, as Salvador revels in the painstaking details of the past, like the love of his desired career as well as his first romance with the devilishly handsome Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia). Only to be counterpointed by the dimness of his current apartment and the frank admissions in the newer works he’s written, determined for them to never leap off the page and into the mouth of another muse.
Unafraid to bear the scars right from the first frame, Almodovar manoeuvres through this heavily autobiographical tale with skilful sensitivity and candour that enables him to gently warm up the audience for the poignant knockouts he eventually delivers. Whilst there is greater subtlety to the visual palette compared to the cinematic candy confections he’s crafted previously. The balance he strikes here with the pepperings of striking primary colours he’s renowned for through costume design and interiors, wrestling with the dialled down contrast of Salvador’s continued use of heroin, is fitting for this time-hopping story.
As a twenty-something who still feels like he’s rebuilding on a personal level. One particular plot strand struck a chord here. The concept of cinema ‘saving you’. To many simply a source of entertainment which is not to be frowned at, yet in an astonishing monologue delivered by Alberto in a performance called ‘Addiction’ its quietly devastating open-heartedness completely envelops you and served as another timely reminder of why film has the remarkable ability to shape who you are, that for all its splendour and mostly fiction, drags you out of the harsh reality of your own personal cave.
Within the film, Antonio Banderas implies that the best actors are not the ones who cry at any given opportunity, but the ones who hold the tears back. Complimenting the restraint of his long-time collaborator. The pain behind the eyes of Salvador is conveyed with such clarity, none more so than the latter flashbacks of his mother. Yet it’s the underlying warmth and tenderness of his demeanour that thankfully wins out, with the Federico scenes bristling with sensuality. It’s a phenomenal performance that undoubtedly should see him propelled into the early awards conversation. In another illuminating turn, Penelope Cruz’s initially cheerful serenades as Jacinta hides a level of disapproval and frustration at where she finds their family, praying a fresh-faced Salvador succeeds where his father sadly hasn’t.
Captivating in its compositions and contemplation. Its emotional involvement as deep as the water Banderas meditates in. Pain & Glory is a simply sublime slice of Almodovar.