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Film Review: Pain and Glory

2 September 19 words: Hilary Whiteside

Pedro Almodóvar's semi-autobiographical story is screening at Broadway Cinema now...

Director: Pedro Almodóvar

Starring: Antonio Banderas, Asier Etxeandia, Leonardo Sbaraglia

Running time: 113 mins

A deeply personal film by Pedro Almodovar, reflecting the life of an aging film director, Mallo (Antonio Banderas) who has failed to live up to his initial success in the industry. He has not produced any notable work for thirty years and exists in a perpetual state of stasis. He has spurned his former friends, the industry in general and seemingly receives little contentment from the comfortable life style funded by his former glory. He surrounds himself with exquisite art and possessions, yet this gives him no satisfaction. This is a deeply personal film from Almodovar. Although he has not directly claimed it as his autobiography,  there is a quantity of referencing to his well documented lifestyle throughout the film and obvious connections can be drawn.

The film’s narrative is structured through a series of flashbacks, when we are given a glimpse of Mallo’s background and how these events have impacted on his adult life. He clearly has high regard for his mother who dragged him up through poverty, a drunken father and, through stealth, managed to acquire an education for him. This childhood is exquisitely reflected through a thoughtful, measured use cinematography. One is given the impression of both director and cinematographer working symbiotically, with a clear understanding of the desired end product. Shots of his mother (Cruz) washing linen by the river are elegant and truly beautiful; they draw attention to the simplicity of rural Spain in which he was brought up. The cave dwelling community where he lived is explored and where we are given a taste of the spirit and pride of his mother. The chronology of the film is not entirely straightforward and can, on occasions be confusing. Apart from historical referencing to his childhood, we are moved to his adult past and occasionally sideways in this narrative structure. The film begins with shots of Mallo underwater in his swimming pool (looking precariously near to suicide) but the water imagery takes over and we are spun into the story of his boyhood beginning with the washing of linen in the river.

Thoughtful, sad, languishing and yet witty and humorous. Almodovar at his best.

Mallo is suffering from a litany of illnesses which is preventing him from not only working, but living any sort of pleasurable existence. They dominate his life: headaches, backaches, mysterious choking and depression. There is a brilliant animated sequence depicting these ailments, shots worthy of a medical student’s text book. The fast speed of this sequence and its ironic undertone reflect perfectly the agitation of Mallo’s mind and perhaps the mind of Almodovar, too. However, a chance reconnection with the actor friend, Alberto (Etxeandia) with whom he produced his masterpiece, furthers the narrative. We understand that they quarrelled during the production of this film and the feud has lasted thirty years. Alberto introduces Mallo to heroin in an attempt to offer some respite from his ailments. It follows that, because of this heroin link, Mallo resurrects the script for a potential film Addiction about his former lover, his addiction and his cure. Alberto, who has suffered from being sidelined as an actor, is desperate to present Mallo’s work, seeing it as his route to regaining his stardom and dignity. Despite initial resistance, Mallo agrees to release the script and allow his former adversary full rein in its interpretation. 

The casting of all main characters is spot on. Banderas dominates the film in a tender, unassuming way.  Cruz is perfection: she looks beautiful, oozing with charisma as she segues into the role of the down-trodden mother, ambitious for her only son. Etxeandia’s craggy good looks and his worn demeanor are utterly convincing as the wasted actor desperate for some final glory.

As with the casting of the actors, the cinematography is excellent, galvanising a full range of techniques. There are witty interludes with the use of animation, as well as interesting opening shots of liquids paints using vibrant colouring synonymous with Spanish style. There is much referencing of Spanish culture and shots which evoke the sleepiness of the countryside; he coolness exuded from the cave dwellings is almost palpable.

An excellently constructed, elegant and engaging film. Thoughtful, sad, languishing and yet witty and humorous. Almodovar at his best.

Did you know? Director Pedro Almodóvar cited Federico Fellini's as the biggest influence on Pain and Glory

Pain and Glory is screening at Broadway Cinema until Thursday 5 September

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