Monday, March 9, 2020

Movie Review: "Pain and Glory" (2019)

Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Year: 2019
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 53 minutes

Tinseltown writers and directors frequently churn out semi-autobiographical projects. Hollywood loves fictitious characters in fictional stories inspired by factual events that are sprung from the lives of filmmakers. Some examples are Cameron Crowe's "Almost Famous," John Boorman's "Hope and Glory," Alfonso Cuarón's "Roma," and Noah Baumbach's "The Squid and the Whale" and "Marriage Story." "Pain and Glory" can now be added to that list as Pedro Almodóvar's stab at a semi-autobiographical work. The story revolves around a director named Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) who, as you may have guessed, is a stand-in for Almodóvar himself. Salvador no está bien. His career has been in a slump. He has many health problems that leave him living with a great deal of pain, and he also suffers from depression. When one of Salvador's films, Sabor, is selected to be remastered and re-released at a festival, he is forced to face his past and make amends to the people with whom he had a falling out. Salvador also reflects back on his childhood and the significant moments that led him to where he presently is in his life. He begins experimenting with hard drugs as he debates allowing his very personal semi-autobiographical script titled Addiction to be performed for the first time. It's all very, very meta.
Photo: Asier Flores, Penélope Cruz, and Raúl Arévalo play the Mallo family star in the movie "Pain and Glory."
Photo: Asier Flores, Penélope Cruz, and Raúl Arévalo play the Mallo family star in the movie "Pain and Glory." (Image Source)
Pedro Almodóvar really wanted to put his stamp on the "tortured artist" moniker, and we think he was rather successful at his attempt. In "Pain and Glory," he examines his first experience with homosexual attraction, his greatest lost love, and his struggles with aging and pain, forgetting and forgiveness, and addiction and inspiration through the character Salvador Mallo. Antonio Banderas does a masterful job breathing life into the distressed genius that is Salvador Mallo. His performance is nuanced, subtle, complex, and powerful. We think it's a career-best performance for Banderas. It's no wonder he received a best actor nomination at this year's Oscars! If only Joaquin Phoenix hadn't been so good. Another excellent performance comes from Asier Etxeandia as a struggling, drug-addicted actor named Alberto Crespo, who has had a long-standing feud with Mallo for decades after he was caught using drugs while filming Sabor. Etxeandia and Banderas have a magnificent rapport and chemistry with one another. They share some of the film's best, most entertaining scenes and moments as they reconnect and "chase the dragon" (do heroin) while discussing the past, present, and future of their careers and lives. We're not familiar with Etxeandia apart from this project, but we are going to seek him out in the future because he is just fantastic here. Leonardo Sbaraglia also gives a stellar (albeit brief) performance as Federico, Salvador's long lost love who shows up seeking connection and closure. Their compassionate reunion is short and bittersweet. It's enough to make anyone who has ever been in love wince with both happiness and pain as they close the book on their relationship. Another aspect of "Pain and Glory" that we loved is its use of unique visual and auditory elements to aid in its storytelling. José Luis Alcaine's stunning cinematography perfectly captures Mallo's/Almodóvar's childhood growing up and living in a cave in a tiny Spanish village. This is juxtaposed with his more prosperous life as an iconic director in Barcelona. Finally, Alberto Iglesias's score feels deliberately broken up into three distinct parts as Mallo flashes back to his past, lives distinctly in his present, and ponders about what is left to come in his pain-riddled life.
Photo: In the semi-autobiographical, Academy Award-nominated film "Pain and Glory," Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) reunites with his long lost love, Federico Delgado (Leonardo Sbaraglia).
Photo: In the semi-autobiographical, Academy Award-nominated film "Pain and Glory," Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) reunites with his long lost love, Federico Delgado (Leonardo Sbaraglia). (Image Source)
It's clear to us that "Pain and Glory" is a deeply intimate project/self-portrait for Pedro Almodóvar. It feels like it's his way of working through his personal demons and past regrets. His passion comes through in each and every frame. That being said, it does feel a bit long and, much like Almodóvar's life, unfinished (which is clearly on purpose since he's obviously still alive). As the film's credits abruptly began rolling, it felt like we had been watching it for a long time. On the other hand, we felt like we wanted to see more because Almodóvar has such a commanding way of telling his stories that we yearned for a conclusion from the narrative threads that were left dangling in uncertainty. Still, "Pain and Glory" is a superbly-crafted, touching feature anchored by several splendid performances and a couple of intensely personal, intimate moments we won't soon forget.

My Rating: 8/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.6/10
RT Rating: 97%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

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