Saturday, September 7, 2019

REVIEW: Pain and Glory

With a career spanning more than four decades and a filmography that includes such masterworks as "All About My Mother" and "Talk to Her", Spanish director Pedro Almodovar is rightfully one of the most highly regarded auteurs in cinema. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, however, I think "Pain and Glory" could arguably be considered his magnum opus. Supremely artful and poignant, it is a stunning showcase of his unique skills as a filmmaker.

Antonio Banderas stars in this semi-autobiographical drama as Salvador Mallo, a film director in the twilight of his career. Suffering with several ailments, he struggles to reclaim his former glory. As he searches for inspiration, he reflects on the momentous occasions of his life, recalling the good and bad memories which shaped him.

Though the film is only loosely biographical, it's hard not to see its creator in the figure of its protagonist. Indeed, with his ruffled, silvery hair, Banderas is a striking stand in for Almodovar. And with the character's background as a filmmaker whose best work was seemingly behind him, this metatextual context brings a natural empathy to his plight, especially for longtime Almodovar fans similarly hoping for another masterpiece.

It therefore brings me great pleasure to report that Almodovar does indeed deliver another arthouse gem. Working at the top of his game, "Pain and Glory" is a reminder of what makes Almodovar such a distinct storyteller. Every facet of the filmmaking is gorgeously wrought, from the colorful costumes and sets, to the beautiful music.

As can be expected of an Almodovar film, the cast also shines. Once again, he is able to garner tremendous performances from his actors. And in this case, he reunites with two of his favorite muses - Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz. Long known for their sex appeal, Almodovar's script has crafted roles which bring a fresh perspective on their personas. As his character requests of another actor - the equally brilliant Asier Etxeandia - tasked with playing him in a play, Banderas underplays the sentimentality and brings a world-weary gravitas to his afflicted character. Meanwhile, Cruz recalibrates her innate sensuality to portray a fierce mother with all the passion of her signature roles.

The elegant musicality, touching performances and exquisite mise en scene all come together to convey the film's poignant themes. Through flashbacks and present scenarios, "Pain and Glory" embodies the saying "time heals all wounds". Despite the physical and emotional pain he endures, Salvador recognizes that it's all part of the school of life. Ultimately, all we can do is live, learn and continue to love.

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