Film review: ‘PAIN AND GLORY’ by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

For nearly 40 years, Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar’s films have intrigued, infuriated and delighted audiences. His provocative but highly personalised subject matter, idiosyncratic style, striking images and ability to draw searing performances from his cast have made his films the arthouse equivalent of event cinema.

His latest film, Pain And Glory, the third in a semi-autobiographical trilogy, features most of the typical but very welcome Almodóvar touches: a stunning visual style with each scene a mosaic of vivid almost gaudy colours set in stark geometric shapes, a story infused with religious references, strong female figures, an artist struggling with sexual issues and Almodóvar’s muses Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz.

Banderas could be described as Almodóvar’s surrogate here, albeit a somewhat broken one. He plays a once-acclaimed film director Salvador Mallo who has settled into uncomfortable middle age and near obscurity after a life of lauded works, fractured relationships, drug use and illness. As age and the spectre of death begin to catch up with him, one of his most revered and personally controversial works, Sabor is re-released something about which Salvador isn’t particularly happy. The re-release opens old relationship wounds (particularly with former friend and leading man Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia)) and causes him to recall his unusual childhood in a cave house in the village of Paterna with mother Jacinta (Penelope Cruz) and the events that shaped him as a person.

Almodóvar is an acquired taste and while this film will definitely appeal to the converted, those who haven’t been seduced by his films may have trouble warming to this one. Its minimalist story unspools at a leisurely pace and in a mostly quiet, introspective, almost austere fashion with many scenes featuring scant dialogue, little incidental music and almost no ambient sound. While these scenes are occasionally interspersed with remarkable animated montages depicting Salvador’s life, particularly his ailments, the film at times feels a little too restrained.

Still, like nearly all Almodovar films, it rewards perseverance as once again he coaxes memorable performances from his cast, particularly Banderas who has rarely been better. His sickly, self-doubting intellectual Salvador is light years away from the cocky flamboyant characters many might recall Banderas playing and more immediately recalls Marcello Mastroianni in Fellini’s films. Despite her roll being limited to flashbacks, Penelope Cruz is typically excellent and Jacinta joins Almodovar’s pantheon of powerful maternal characters. Equally good is young Asier Flores as the nine-year-old Salvador, a bookish but precocious and opinionated child who, in a funny and touching sequence, that has lifelong implications for Salvador, teaches the local tradesmen how to read.

Whether or not it convinces Almodovar’s detractors of his genius, Pain and Glory reveals a veteran auteur equally capable of satisfying adoring audiences expectations while surprising them.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2

Genre: Drama.

Classification: MA15+.

Director(s): Pedro Almodóvar.

Release date: 7th Nov 2019.

Running time: 114 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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