September 28, 2020

Winnipeg
9° C, Partly cloudy

Full Forecast

Close

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

Film toes line between fact, fiction

Banderas plays director patterned after Almodóvar

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/12/2019 (297 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In this autumnal semi-autobiographical film, Pedro Almodóvar (known for such movies as Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! and The Skin I Live In) is working in that hyper-auteurist mode where a movie’s main character is a film director, usually male, usually older, usually facing some kind of creative and emotional crisis.

It’s a genre that is often self-indulgent — and occasionally angry and aggrieved — but in the hands of the 70-year-old Spanish master becomes a gentle and generous examination of time, age and the act of creation. Nuanced and elusive, Pain and Glory (in Spanish with subtitles) is highly personal without being self-absorbed.

The story starts with the Almodóvar-type character, Madrid-based filmmaker Salvador Mallo, finally patching things up with actor Alberto Crespo after a falling out more than 30 years ago. There are echoes here of Almodóvar’s up-and-down relationship with one-time muse Antonio Banderas: the two men made five films in the hedonist heyday of the post-Franco era, but Almodóvar felt betrayed by Banderas’s 1990s defection to Hollywood.

The self-referential trick is that Banderas plays not Alberto, the actor (who is portrayed by Asier Etxeandia), but Salvador, the director, complete with Almodóvar’s trademark hair, all wayward and sticking up. This is one sign that Almodóvar is fooling around with the line between autobiographical fact and artful fiction.

Manolo Pavón / Sony Pictures Classics</p><p>Antonio Banderas plays Salvador Mallo in Pain and Glory, a character that resembles the film’s director, Pedro Almodóvar.</p></p>

Manolo Pavón / Sony Pictures Classics

Antonio Banderas plays Salvador Mallo in Pain and Glory, a character that resembles the film’s director, Pedro Almodóvar.

These boundaries are further complicated by the film’s look. Salvador’s apartment is a near replica of Almodóvar’s actual home — and wow, the mod chairs, the neo-surrealist paintings, the Hermes china — while Salvador’s wardrobe also borrows from Almodóvar’s closet.

Salvador suffers from chronic pain, multiple physical ailments and crushing anxiety, depression and agoraphobia. He has also recently developed a heroin habit ("Latecomers are the worst," Alberto remarks). Mostly, he’s terrified he’ll never direct again.

We see Salvador gingerly getting out of cars, or putting down a pillow on the wooden floor when he has to pick something up. Banderas isn’t doing an impersonation, however. This is an understated but emotional performance, vulnerable and utterly without vanity, and Banderas brings in some of his own history. In the opening scene, we see a long scar running down his chest, a reminder of the actor’s heart attack in 2017.

There are moments of comedy, as when Salvador phones it in — literally — to a Madrid Cinematheque screening of one of his films, taking questions over the organizer’s iPhone while audibly snorting drugs.

More often, though, Almodóvar moves in a melancholy direction, with Salvador’s heroin reveries carrying him back to his rural boyhood and memories of his mother, Jacinta, played by Penelope Cruz with a complex combination of self-abnegation and fierce ambition.

Sony Picture Classics/TNS</p><p>A scene from Pedro Almodovar's Pain and Glory.</p>

Sony Picture Classics/TNS

A scene from Pedro Almodovar's Pain and Glory.

The past also bleeds into the present. Along with Salvador’s reunion with Alberto, he also meets again with Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia), his first love, their relationship in the 1980s having been undone not by lack of love or passion but by Federico’s own heroin addiction.

The story is moving but — unlike a lot of Almodóvar’s work — never tips over into outright melodrama. "Actors will take any opportunity to cry," Salvador admonishes Alberto. The director thinks it’s better to be just on the verge of tears.

From the beguiling opening credits, it’s clear that Almodóvar still loves intense colour, and Pain and Glory is saturated with the greenest greens, the reddest reds, the bluest blues.

In other ways, however, the direction is subtle, subdued and layered with odd, seemingly offhand moments.

"I don’t like autofiction," Jacinta says acerbically at one point. Despite these maternal misgivings, Pain and Glory, as the title suggests, is about transmuting experience into art.

With tremendous tenderness for himself, his characters and his audience, Almodóvar mixes memory and emotion, life and cinema, so that in the film’s evocative final image, they are impossible to pull apart.

alison.gillmor@freepress.mb.ca

Alison Gillmor

Alison Gillmor
Writer

Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.

Read full biography

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

The Winnipeg Free Press invites you to share your opinion on this story in a letter to the editor. A selection of letters to the editor are published daily.

To submit a letter:
• fill out the form on this page, or
• email letters@freepress.mb.ca, or
• mail Letters to the Editor, 1355 Mountain Avenue, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R2X 3B6.

Letters must include the writer’s full name, address, and a daytime phone number. Letters are edited for length and clarity.

Advertisement

Advertise With Us