Pain and Glory (2019; Pedro Almodóvar)
By Daniel Barnes
Opens on Friday, Nov. 8, at the Tower Theatre in Sacramento.
For his 21st feature film, the great Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar once again reaches into the inkwell of semi-autobiography. In the quietly enchanting Pain and Glory, frequent Almodóvar muse Antonio Banderas plays an Almodóvar avatar named Salvador Mallo. In addition to a host of mental and physical maladies, Mallo suffers from a crippling creative block and a newfound heroin habit.
Almodóvar never experienced a creative dry spell like the one depicted here, but after a couple of relatively ho-hum efforts in I’m So Excited! and Julieta, Pain and Glory feels like the work of a new man. At this point in his career, it may be that only something with traces of autobiography can fire Almodóvar’s engines. Ironically, Mallo also uses autobiography as a means of snapping out of an artistic funk.
“Chance Encounters and Inexplicable Coincidences”
Pain and Glory unfolds as a series of chance encounters and inexplicable coincidences laced with flashbacks. Naturally, Penelope Cruz stars as an idealized mother figure in scenes depicting Mallo’s childhood memories of a whitewashed cave home in the coastal village of Paterna. Biographical connections to Almodóvar pop up everywhere in Pain and Glory. Asier Etxeandia plays a vain actor whose falling out with Mallo resembles a real-life rift between Banderas and Almodóvar. Meanwhile, Almodóvar used his actual home in Madrid to stand in for Mallo’s apartment.
The poster image takes the connection a step further, depicting Almodóvar’s pompadoured outline as the shadow image of Banderas’ character. Of course, none of these Easter eggs would matter if the film didn’t matter. Thankfully, Pain and Glory is a beautiful piece of filmmaking, with another classic score by Alberto Iglesias and technically flawless compositions and edits.
And it never ceases to amaze me that Almodóvar can draw detailed and even restrained work across a variety of genres from Banderas, while no other director can seem to control his zealous scenery-chewing. However they got there, it’s one of the best lead performances of the year.