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Review: Pain and Glory

October 25, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

The latest from master filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, Pain and Glory is a beautiful work filled with colour and emotion that is carried by a powerful, career-defining performance from Antonio Banderas, who won the Best Actor prize at Cannes for his role.

The story centres around an aging filmmaker named Salvador Mallo (Banderas), who is plagued by chronic pain and a sense of creative stagnancy. When a revival screening is booked of Sabor, the last movie he made before his career started drying up, and he is invited to do a Q&A, Salvador reunites with the film’s star, Alberto (Asier Etxeandia), whom he hasn’t spoken to in years.

Alberto is a junkie and avid drug user, which causes Salvador to start doing heroin. This sends him down a path of remembering moments from his early life as a child (Asier Flores) in Spain, as memories of his mother (Penélope Cruz), and other figures from his past, start flooding back.

While it might not seem this way at first, Pain and Glory actually becomes a bit of a puzzle box, with our understanding of the story constantly evolving and turning in on itself as more elements of Salvador’s life are revealed through his memories. This leads to one of the best and most beautifully composed final images of any film this year. As figures and moments from Salvador’s past keep re-emerging within the narrative, Almodóvar’s film becomes a powerful exploration of repression, and how memories of sexual awakening and old relationships continue to linger and define our lives.

Themes of pleasure, desire and repressed sexuality have always been present in Almodóvar’s work, and in Pain and Glory the Spanish director plums them for maximum emotional depth. There are moments that recall the buoyancy and pleasurable qualities of his lighter works, including a wonderfully staged sequence involving a Q&A going horribly awry that walks a knife’s edge between funny and tragic, and shows that his gifts for screwball comedy are still just as sharp. But this is matched by a profound sense of tenderness and a deep, bittersweet well of feeling that makes this one of Almodóvar’s most perceptive and inward films, drawing upon moments from his own life to craft a story of longing and rebirth.

Banderas brings an introspective quality to his portrayal of Salvador, delivering a beautifully textured performance that reveals new layers of nuance as more of his character’s backstory is revealed. José Luis Alcaine’s cinematography is brilliant and vibrant, with symbolic splashes of the colour red appearing throughout. The result is a sumptuous, entertaining and very moving look at the intersections between movies and memories, that finds both Almodóvar and Banderas in top form, and provides a richly rewarding cinematic experience.

Pain and Glory is now playing in limited release at Cineplex Cinemas Varsity in Toronto.

A version of this review was originally published during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival.

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