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With: Antonio Banderas, Asier Etxeandia, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Nora Navas, Julieta Serrano, Penélope Cruz, Asier Flores, César Vicente
Written by: Pedro Almodóvar
Directed by: Pedro Almodóvar
MPAA Rating: R for drug use, some graphic nudity and language
Language: Spanish, with English subtitles
Running Time: 113
Date: 10/11/2019

Pain and Glory (2019)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Direct Costs

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Pedro Almodóvar pays homage to Federico Fellini's 8 ½ — and if there's any doubt of that fact, a movie poster for that 1963 masterwork is on display in one shot — with Pain and Glory, the story of an aging filmmaker plagued with pain and doubt. Antonio Banderas won a Best Actor award at Cannes for his portrayal of Salvador Mallo, the director who hasn't worked in ages, and finds his life suddenly upended when an older film, Sabor, is restored and re-released. He and his leading man Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia) are asked to participate in a Q&A, but the two men haven't spoken in decades. Salvador visits Alberto to talk, but instead Alberto snoops on Salvador's computer and finds a monologue that he decides he wants to perform as a play. During the visit, Alberto also gives Salvador — who suffers from many ailments — his first hit of heroin.

The movie then fades through many time periods, going all the way back to Salvador's childhood, raised by his mother (Penélope Cruz), while living in a "cave." He tutors an illiterate worker, Eduardo (César Vicente), in exchange for Eduardo's painting and fixing up their humble dwelling. Eduardo also makes a lovely painting of the boy reading a book. He remembers his mother, sick in the hospital, and has an encounter with an old lover, Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia), who saw Alberto perform Salvador's monologue. Of course, in examining all of these things from his past, Salvador begins to look ahead once more.

Almodóvar's tone here is more muted than usual, less torrid than his earlier soap operas, and similar in a way to his last film Julieta (2016); perhaps he learned some things from the great author Alice Munro? Yet his bold use of color is still here, more in service to an inner struggle than to external passions. Salvador's journey is less phantasmagoric than in Fellini's film, but also closer to earth, easier to grasp, and Banderas's performance is indeed powerful, running the gamut from agony to anguish and back to hope again. Clearly Pain and Glory is an intensely personal work, a painful, yet somehow serene exposing of Almodóvar's innermost thoughts and fears. It's a brave look back that results in a brave step forward.

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