Saturday, October 26, 2019

Movie with Abe: Pain and Glory

Pain and Glory
Directed by Pedro Almodovar
Released October 4, 2019

A film, even one that’s meant to be a cohesive biopic about a subject, real or invented, can’t possibly capture the entirety of a person’s life. Formative moments have to be chosen, and multiple actors may portray the protagonist at different points in his or her life. In some cases, like “Steve Jobs,” moments are engineered and imagined to present an effective summary of events that might have taken place earlier or later, a creative solution given that highlighting every milestone moment just can’t be done in the span of one film. What does get selected speaks volumes about what shapes a character and defines his or her story.

Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) is an established writer and director in Spain, most known for a breakthrough film thirty years earlier that resulted in an immediate cessation of his friendship with its star, Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia). An anniversary release prompts a reunion between the two, who contemplate new projects as the aging filmmaker is introduced to heroin by his old friend. As he deals with his worsening health and continued questions of relevance, Salvador recalls his childhood, where his younger self (Asier Flores) lives with his loving mother (Penélope Cruz) and teaches a painter (César Vicente) how to read and write.

This is a distinctly Almodovar production, exploring themes of sexuality, nostalgia, and accomplishment, most similar to his most recent film, “Julieta.” Layered beneath a typically colorful and beautifully-decorated surface is commentary on Almodovar’s own career and his long-time friendship with frequent collaborator Banderas. This is far from his most revelatory film in its own right, but there seems to be something deeply personal at play in how Almodovar brings this story of a man whose every thought is dominated by loneliness when he’s achieved so much in his life to the screen, creating what could well be his more normative film, still crafted with precision and intimacy.

Banderas’ last starring role in an Almodovar film was in the dark but excellent “The Skin I Live In,” twenty-one years after his previous collaboration in “Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down.” His work here won Banderas the Best Actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival, recognizing one of his subtlest, least showy efforts. Cruz is particularly endearing and strong as Salvador’s mother, as is Flores in a remarkable debut. This film should have particular resonance for Almodovar aficionados, and for the rest of the population, it’s easily the auteur’s most accessible project, demonstrative of his ability to make any subject feel vital and compelling.


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