Directed By Pedro Almodovar
Starring – Antonio Banderas, Asier Etxeandia, Leonardo Sbaraglia
The Plot – Salvador Lallo (Banderas) was at the decline of his career. He involuntarily looks back into the past, and a stream of vivid memories falls upon him. He recalls such moments from his youth as tender feelings for his mother (Penelope Cruz), love and separation, the search for happiness and success. All this leads the master of cinema to important thoughts about life and art, building to an epiphany culmination that gives meaning to each pivotal step along the way.
Rated R for drug use, some graphic nudity and adult language
– Cinematic intimacy. This is certainly a sentimental story to Almodovar, who not only lived through what transpires on-screen, but also brings along with it an eruption of emotional response so precise that it couldn’t come from anyone except someone so enveloped by the experiences. Because of this, every conversation, conflict, and mental commentary supplanted to the film gives it this proximity with the protagonist that fictional films simply can’t compete with. It helps to better illustrate Salvador’s cryptic actions with a layer of clarity that only materializes once all of the pieces have been formed together, cementing a bigger picture of history playing a pivotal hand on the progression of the future. Most of all, it’s Pedro’s vulnerability within the story that feels every bit as honest as it is therapeutic to the storyteller, paying off years of constricted longing with the audience who have always adored his artform.
– Art imitating life. Aside from this movie being cloaked in so much life experience that it practically transcends itself as a cinematic offering, the personal touches of authenticity that Almodovar incorporates into this fictional rendering is one that utilizes a crossroads between reality and fiction that immerses them beautifully. In this regard, there are more than a couple of clever Easter Eggs inserted into these scenes that fans of Pedro will catch or not, depending on their dedication to the heralded director. First is the conflict between Salvador and Alberto in the film, which is factually based on the emerging rivalry between Pedro and star-of-this-movie Banderas, after their working relationship in “Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down”. Second is the near identity title of the fictional film within this movie, called “Savor”, which is a play on words for Almodovar’s real life film “Flavour”. Finally, Pedro’s real life apartment currently is used as a shooting location frequently throughout the film, proving the level of inheritance that he donned upon Banderas for his transformation into the role. These are only a couple of the ones I found, and give way to a desire to watch the film once more, in order to find any other articles of incorporation.
– Stacked performances. There’s been a lot of Academy praise for Antonio’s performance here, and it’s certainly easy to comprehend why. Instead of emoting Salvador with a series of long-winded diatribes or emotional complexity in deliveries, he instead captivates audiences in the reverse psychosis he maintains in showing what’s boiling inside on the outside, for everyone to indulge. Thanks to no shortage of weathered reminder on his face, or tearful permanence in his eyes, Banderas’ encapsulating turn comprehends every life event that came before his involvement into the film, and better established the level of believability between the actors of two respective age groups that made up the same person. Aside from him, Penelope Cruz is equally as entrancing, albeit with a much limited scale of scenes that the movie unfortunately donates to her. Cruz’s scenes come with a wide variety of warmth and inspiration for the little boy version of Salvador, which depict her character with such a level of important nourishment that only Penelope supplant. These two actors are veterans within Almodovar’s universe of films, and attain a level of professionalism once more, which has them cutting to the front of the line of deserved academy recognition.
– Unique style. Much credit to Pedro, as well as cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine for manufacturing a series of tastefully meaningful shots and color coordination that gives “Pain and Glory” plenty to chew on. The variation of wide angle lens during entrancing establishing sequences in Paterna or Madrid, and the tight-knit intimacy of sequences during one-on-one interactions, highlight every important aspect of every frame, maintaining audience investment every step of the way. Aside from this, the movie’s value with art is translated atmospherically through a series of eye-fetching interior designs that never duplicate or run together with what characters are wearing in the same shot. It proves that Pedro didn’t just rest on his laurels with the style when comparing to his abundance of substance that feels so close to him. Both are brought into the spectrum, and establish one of Pedro’s more complete films that he has made within the 21st century.
– Patient pacing. This will undoubtedly be a negative to many people who watch this film, but for me it duplicated the movements of life in a naturally satisfying measure. This is a film with nothing exciting beyond the human experience, and while that sounds like a back-handed compliment, it measures authentically if you are going for a film based on true experiences. That’s not to say that this film is boring or even dull at times, just grounded in scene transitions during a couple of instances, especially during the second act. This makes it feel like anything but a movie, which in turn cements the transcendence that the film was reaching for, and makes it a little easier to forgive those downtime moments that test patience for something bigger. It’s only a 108 minute movie, so any feeling of longing will be answered if you just remain with it, I promise.
– Documentation of aging. Decomposition within age progression feels like something that many movies are afraid to address, but Almodovar does it with a level of unabashed focus that springs forth in the most satisfyingly nuanced measures. Aside from the prosthetics department doing a remarkable job at aging Banderas naturally in a way that vividly transforms him into the director, it’s the sparse details in the screenplay that I greatly appreciated in keeping this consistency. Keep your eyes ready each time Banderas kneels down. He places a pillow underneath him to convey the soreness in his knees, giving way to the calcium deterioration that is eventually revealed as one of his many ailments. That brings me to my final point, as the film’s introduction articulates Salvador’s suffering with a visual graphic that feels like a throwback to my days in health class. It informs us extensively in a way that gives meaningful exposition to the lead, all the while paying homage to the fragility of time that catches up to all of us eventually.
– Tonally eclipsing. It would be easy to read about everything I previously mentioned and isolate this film as a melodramatic sludge whose somber pacing is only surpassed by its self-loathing atmosphere, but you would be completely wrong. Instead, there’s a level of hope maintained in the film that still makes this as optimistic as any film with heartache and regret as two of its central themes, keeping it from being the downer at the party who nobody associates with. Part of what attains this optimism is the films delving into the drug territory, which throws some extreme circumstances in the way of the suffering protagonist. Also as important is the social commentary with being an artist within the industry that Pedro has no reservations about deconstructing. This again plays especially into the level of vulnerability that he deposits onto the film, allowing him to have a satisfying laugh at his own expense.
– Limited appeal. “Pain and Glory” will have a hard time selling itself to its audience, mainly because only a few people will pick up on the nuances and quirks of a director outlining his own life story for the storytelling of the camera. I am not the biggest Almodovar fan in the world, and what little I know of him behind the scenes brings forth many questionable human traits that are a tough sell to anyone looking to pick up a new filmmaker. This is a film purely for the Pedro junkies in the audience. If you aren’t one of these people, I feel like it will compromise your investment into the film, leaving the more important aspects unrealized for what the script intended. Limited audience often means inevitably forgettable, and that’s a shame for a movie that digs so deep into a cherished director’s psyche.
– Love subplot. This is easily my biggest problem with the film, and brings forth a feeling of disjointed storytelling that could’ve used a re-write to feel more effective. Throughout the first act of the movie, we flashback to the past of Salvador in a way that colorfully elaborates at what is taking place in the foreground of the current day narrative. That is until we get to a love story reveal, with a sexual preference and interest that comes out of nowhere, and feels like it deserved much more time in establishing what came to be. It does eventually elaborate further, but it’s nearly at the end of the movie, when the big reveal of that scene could’ve held greater weight of impact on the script if it were done before the adult version runs into his former love. In fact, there are a couple of scenes in the film that I would jumble around for better context fluidity to the narrative. This is a film with a storytelling gimmick of three respective timelines within Salvador’s life, and while the past is meant to fill in the blanks of the present, this love subplot comes into focus with the subtlety of a Sherman tank running through a Nitroglycerine plant.
– Questionable casting. I had no complaints between the believability of Banderas and eight-year-old Asier Flores, mainly because their transformation signals an immense fifty year gap between them, making anything possible within their visual appearances. The one casting I did have a problem with, however, was Penelope Cruz evolving into 86-year-old Julietta Serrano as the same character. From the complete distinction of skin tone, to the vastly different facial structure, everything about these two women couldn’t be any more contradicting, leading to a level of believability that was the biggest stretch for age-progressing that I have seen in 2019. Nothing about them other than their accents are even remotely similar, and if it wasn’t for the use of some clever instances of transition editing, which moved two actors together as the same character simultaneously, I would’ve been lost in figuring out where the correlation is.
My Grade: 7/10 or B-