Home » Film Festivals » ‘Pain and Glory’ Review: Dir. Pedro Almodóvar (2019) [Sydney]

‘Pain and Glory’ Review: Dir. Pedro Almodóvar (2019) [Sydney]

by Sacha Hall

Pain and Glory Review: Through Antonio Banderas’ magnificent performance, director Pedro Almodóvar presents a meta-fiction of himself in the medium he excels in best.

Hot on the heels of its successful screening at Cannes where it was nominated for the prestigious Palm d’Or and won Antonio Banderas the best actor award for his role as an aging gay film director riddled with excruciating health problems, Pedro Almodóvar’s latest offering, Pain and Glory takes its bow down here in Sydney.

A master of intertextuality and self-reference, Almodóvar’s 21st film boldly turns the camera onto himself and delivers a delicate metafiction – or as his character, Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) would say “auto-fiction” – that loses none of the qualities one comes to expect from the celebrated director. The signatures are all there; bold colours, his admiration for cinema, strong female figures and loving embraces, painstakingly interwoven into a story within a story within a story. But best of all, Almodóvar has given audiences something we are yet to experience…an insight into his own insecurities and personal health struggles, having recently revealed he suffers from tinnitus.

The result is Pain and Glory; a glorious and engaging tale centering around film director Salvador Mallo and his inability to focus creatively due to the chronic pain and health problems he suffers.  In a chance meeting at a café, he runs into old friend Zulema (Cecilia Roth) where they discuss the Madrid cinematheque’s upcoming screening of his early film ‘Sabor’. It has been thirty years since its debut (and since Mallo last spoke to the film’s drug-addicted leading actor Alberto Crespo [Asier Etxeandia]) and the organisers were hoping Mallo and Crespo would agree to participate in a Q&A following the restored print’s screening.

Wanting to finally repair their relationship and to gauge Crespo’s interest in the Q&A, Mallo decides to visit his heroin-addicted friend at home. Shortly following his arrival, the duo humourously discusses and introduce Mallo to the ‘peace dragon’ and pill-popping Mallo finds himself hooked on the escape it temporarily provides.  He’s taking hits whenever he and Crespo get together, he’s buying it on the street and using it anytime he feels a pinch of discomfort, both real and imagined. Whilst light-heartedly used at times, the substance abuse isn’t addressed flippantly; rather, Almodóvar uses it as a tool of understanding as to how some people’s physical and mental ailments may lead to their susceptibility.

When Alberto uncovers an unfinished script on Mallo’s computer about a former lover who became an addict titled ‘Addiction’, he feels the similarity to his own struggle and begs Mallo to finish it so that he can perform the story as a theatrical monologue. Teetering between giving in to his creative darkness – at one point saying “Without filming, my life is meaningless” – and confronting his past experiences head-on in new work, Mallo brushes the idea. It is not until after their disastrous afternoon with the peace dragon when they fail to attend the Sabor Q&A and instead find themselves dredging up old wounds on loudspeaker to the audience with hilarious results, that Mallo decides to make changes.

With the help of his long-suffering assistant Mercedes (Nora Navas), Mallo seeks medical assistance for pain management, manages to finish the addiction script and offers the project to Alberto uncredited. It is a creative turning point for both men with Mallo facing the evolution of his sexuality and lost love ones and Alberto regaining passion for his craft.  It also sets up one of the most poignant moments in the film when Salvador’s Argentinian ex-love Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia) sits teary-eyed in the audience and soon after finds himself at Salvador’s door.

It’s an incredibly moving exchange between the two men who, with the maturity of age and experience, find themselves reconnecting and confessing their still-burning desire for the other. The moment ends with heartfelt, promising goodbyes and a small smile (for the first and only time) from Mallo.

Interwoven throughout the film are dazzling filtered threads (beautifully shot by José Luis Alcaine) of Mallo’s journey to the present. His 9-year-old childhood memories with his mother Jacinta (Penélope Cruz) in the caves of Paterna give way to glimpses of his burgeoning sexuality as he watches handsome handyman Eduardo (César Vicente) wash and dry himself. There are also sequences of Salvador’s time as a choirboy (alluding to the cause of his throat problems in the present) and with his mother (played by Julieta Serrano) on her penultimate day on earth where you get the impression that there were many things left unsaid between them. “I don’t want any of this in your films” she chides during one sequence where she tells him how she would like to be buried.

Aided by Alberto Iglesias’ romantically dreamy score, Pain and Glory is a vibrant, witty film that will have you completely enchanted.  It’s a film about love and life and who doesn’t love a bit of that. Don’t miss it.

Pain and Glory was reviewed at the Sydney Film Festival by Sacha Hall, June 2019.

Pain and Glory opens in UK cinemas on 23 August 2019.

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