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PAIN AND GLORY gets 7.5/10 Life and Film


Directed by Pedro Almodóvar

Starring Antonio Banderas, Asier Etxeandia, Penelope Cruz

7.5/10

Working with vaguely autobiographical material, Spanish sensation Pedro Almodóvar brings us the artful introspection of an artist (a filmmaker like himself, specifically) and the hardships and reconciliations that come with looking back on a life long lived.

The filmmaker is Salvador (Antonio Banderas), who’s experiencing a creative rut leading up to the 30-year anniversary screening of his film Sabor. With a desperate nostalgia forced on him, he tries to reconcile with the film’s lead actor, Alberto (Asier Etxeandia), who proves to be both a good and bad influence on Salvador. Upon spying on a theatrical monologue Salvador’s writing, describing a time in his life when he witnessed a friend suffer from drug addiction, Alberto agrees to bring this one-man play to life – all the while, these “late in life” moments summon flashbacks of his struggling childhood, where he was primarily raised by the mother he adores (Penelope Cruz).

There’s no hard drama here – despite the great stretches of motifs reaching across time, the set up between characters and their reestablished relations is viewed simply as the casual movements of life. Though the profundity is nonetheless softly felt. The deliberate and careful pacing of this tale is ponderous, like Almodóvar’s last film Julieta, rather than steadily leading to a great twist, like The Skin I Live In or Talk to Her. This ponderous nature usually doesn’t feel meandering, as each part of the tale gradually reveals its relevance.

One astonishing sequence that stands out is an animation showing the various physical ailments upon Salvador’s body, using a multitude of graphics to get under his skin and in his brain to discover his physical (and thus mental) setbacks. He’s the kind of man who, when paralysed by bodily pain, begins praying to God, but the rest of the time when he is able-bodied, he is an atheist.

You’ve likely never seen Antonio Banderas like this before, he’s as subdued and internal as ever, hardly even raising his voice, as his agonies can be read between his calmness. And Asier Etxeandia works as a superb counterpoint to him, a slightly younger and more self-destructive persona, who truly stuns in an on-stage monologue he gives, another of the film’s highlights because of his raw emotional exposure, the minimalistic and impassionate set design he uses on stage, and the revelation of what this performance ultimately brings (back) to Salvador’s life.

Almodóvar has seemingly put a lot of himself and his own life into this film, all the while managing to make it so easily relatable to all viewers. At times, Pain and Glory seems to become too discreet and filled with dead air, mostly occurring in the childhood flashbacks, but other times it has an incredible strength that helps with the very curious feeling this film evokes.

DAVID MORGAN-BROWN

Pain and Glory plays at UWA Somerville from Monday, November 25 – Sunday, December 1, 8pm. It will also be the closing film of the CottFilmFest 2020 at the Cottesloe Civic Centre on February 16, 7:30pm. 

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