Despite its grandiose title, Almodóvar’s latest is an intimate and – no matter how much you know about the writer/director’s life – obviously personal film. Almodóvar devotees will appreciate it. Others may find it boring.
Pain and Glory
Directed by Pedro Almodóvar – 2019
Reviewed by Mark Tapio Kines
Although Almodóvar himself has been cagy about just how autobiographical this film is, its story is centered on a famous Spanish filmmaker (Antonio Banderas) whose name is Salvador Mallo but who wears Almodóvar’s actual clothes and lives in an apartment furnished with Almodóvar’s actual belongings, so make of that what you will.
We are told early on that Salvador is wracked with physical and mental ailments, chief among them a bad back, migraines, depression, anxiety, and an unknown condition that gives him sudden choking spasms. (Hence the “Pain” of the film’s title.) Because of his bad back, and his grief over the recent-ish death of his mother (Penélope Cruz in flashbacks), Salvador has been unmotivated to begin a new film, and his inertia depresses him even more.
The plot – what there is of it – kicks in when Salvador is asked to speak at a screening of one of his 1980s films. To do so, he must reconcile with the film’s star (Asier Etxeandia), with whom he had a falling out during production. This reconciliation doesn’t take much effort, and indeed, within moments of reuniting, the actor has introduced Salvador to the wonders of heroin, and the melancholy filmmaker gets hooked. (Mercifully, the heroin is only smoked in this film, sparing us the trauma of having to sit through shooting-up sequences.)
There are the aforementioned flashbacks to Salvador’s poverty-stricken yet still atmospheric youth and a subplot involving a lost love, but a good deal of the film just has Salvador inhaling heroin and zoning out. As a result, although the screen is filled with Almodóvar’s trademark bright colors, the film is something of a snooze.
I did enjoy Pain and Glory – it’s elegant filmmaking, and Banderas’s hushed performance is touching – but it didn’t do much for me, and I forgot about it rather quickly. And this is coming from a fellow filmmaker. Lo siento, Pedro.
> Playing at Laemmle’s Playhouse 7.
Mark Tapio Kines is a film director, writer, producer and owner of Cassava Films. You can reach Mark here.
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