Pedro Almodovar’s latest seen the prolific Spanish filmmaker in a reflective mood. Pain and Glory.
Veteran movie director Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) is in the Autumn of his career and in the middle of a creative slump. Suffering from an endless list of physical ailments, he struggles to drum up some inspiration and, instead, reminisces about the defining moments of his life; from a difficult childhood, emigrating to Paterna with his mother (Penelope Cruz) and discovering cinema despite adversity, through his blossoming sexuality to a relationship with his first adult love.
Self-referential and semi-autobiographical, this could all have been an indulgent romp along a notional memory lane and self-aggrandising puff piece. Thankfully, Almodovar tells his story with moderation and avoids painting his protagonist as a tortured miracle worker or blowing his own fictional trumpet.
There are early scenes of broad humour that only half hit home, but these make way for moments of sincerity and tenderness. Flashback sequences involving Cruz as Salvador’s hard-pressed single mother play out with a melodic charm that washes away any potential detours into kitchen sink dreariness. As the man on the wrong side of middle age, Banderas shows a gruff prickliness surrounding a core of regret and melancholy that’s consistently lovely to watch. A midpoint reunion with an old flame hints at loss and guilt and unfolds with a slight touch that makes you appreciate that, for all his success in big budget spectacle and as a talking cat, Antonio Banderas is also a master of subtlety.
Visually luxurious and slowly riveting, Almodovar’s inwards-looking tale of amelioration is a treat.
Chris Banks | [rating=4]
Drama, World Cinema | Spain, 2019 | 15 | Subtitles | 23rd August 2019 (UK) | Pathe UK | Dir.Pedro Almodovar | Antonio Banderas, Penelope Cruz, Asier Etxeandia, Leonardo Sbaraglia