Possibly Almodovar’s most personal film to date, this is a bittersweet ode to how cinema has changed his life and the burdens and regrets he still carries—through an alter ego as played by a sublime Antonio Banderas.
Dir. Pedro Almodovar
2019 | Spain | Drama | 113 mins | 1.85:1 | Spanish
M18 (passed clean) for drug use, some graphic nudity and language
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Penelope Cruz, Asier Etxeandia, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Nora Navas
Plot: A film director reflects on the choices he’s made in life as past and present come crashing down around him.
Awards: Won Best Actor & Soundtrack Award (Cannes)
International Sales: FilmNation
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse
(Reviewed in theatres)
Spain’s greatest living filmmaker is back in form again after the inconsequential I’m so Excited! (2013) and the underwhelming Julieta (2016). Through Antonio Banderas, who won Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, Pedro Almodovar has fashioned what could be his most personal film to date. Banderas plays Almodovar’s alter ego, Salvador, who is a film director with a rich if chequered history.
Hoping to reconcile with an actor whom he had made a film with decades ago, after that said film, now lovingly restored, is up for a special public presentation, Salvador begins to revisit his memories of life, particularly when he was a child with his mother who cared dearly for him, and his personal relationship with an old male flame who is etched deeply in his recollection.
The personal and the professional mix in this bittersweet ode to cinema’s significant impact on Almodovar’s life, and the burdens and regrets he continues to carry with him at a ripe old age of 70.
Banderas’ sublime performance brings all of these to the fore with quiet sensitivity, but Almodovar is not just content with a sentimental nostalgia for the past, he, in fact, pushes the film a little further to expose an undercurrent of stubbornness.
One might get the feeling that Pain & Glory is both the work of a reflective artist and also a willful one, where through the cathartic process of creation i.e. the making of Pain & Glory itself, Almodovar is at once affirming how the past has shaped him, yet the film’s meta-cinematic nature reveals that he is prepared to be obstinate (like a director should be) in believing that the path he has taken is the one he must continue on.
Without saying too much, the film’s final shot best captures this effect in the most moving and encompassing of ways. Wistful but also not taking itself too seriously, Pain & Glory is a different kind of Almodovar that I hope to see more of. It will likely give Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite (2019) a good run for its money in the Oscar race for Best International Feature in 2020, assuming both will land nominations.