Friday, October 4, 2019

Pain and Glory: Almodóvar's Blast from The Past

By José Alberto Hermosillo

“Pain and Glory” is the boldest and most exquisite Almodóvar work in recent years. 

In “Pain and Glory,” Antonio Banderas delivers his career's most elegant and insightful performance.

Pedro Almodóvar. Photo José A. Hermosillo, Festival in LA ©2019
It is trendy for Latin filmmakers to make a movie about their childhood. We saw it with Hector Babenco in “My Hindu Friend” last year in Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” and a year before in Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “Endless Poetry.” In this semi-autobiographical work, Pedro Almodóvar presents “Pain and Glory,” an intimate portrait of himself, his infancy, and his midlife crisis.
Antonio Banderas in Pain and Glory. Photo: courtesy of Sony Classics.
At a certain age, the symptoms of loneliness, depression, and physical agony dent the creativity of the genius filmmaker Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas). Salvador submerges himself in the middle of a tranquil swimming pool where nothing happens, only the memories we see in vivid flashbacks of his infantile years.
Penélope Crúz in Pain and Glory. Photo courtesy of Sony Classics
When Salvador was a child, he conflicted with his beautiful mother (Penélope Crúz) over his future studies in a Catholic seminary. At that time, Spain didn’t have other options for higher education for a kid with a prodigious mind.

Religion has been a theme for many Spanish filmmakers. In the opening narration, Mallo recalls: “The days I feel many excruciating aches, I pray to God. The others, when I feel only one little twinge, I’m an atheist.” Like a famous Luis Buñuel phrase: “Thanks to God, I’m an Atheist.”
Culturally speaking, “Pain and Glory” is a Spanish movie, although Almodóvar goes global. His universal approach is in the film's dialogs, music, and images. 

Enhancing the cinematic experience, the movie mentions some notable Hollywood stars, such as Marilyn Monroe and Liz Taylor. The characters listen to Chavela Vargas while drinking tequila, evoking a passage of his life in Mexico. Images from Lucrecia Martel’s “The Holy Girl/La niña santa” are present while getting high. Those images represent the lover who went back to Argentina and broke his heart in pieces. Finally, the infatuating song “Come Sinfonia” is courtesy of the extraordinary Italian singer Mina.

After a casual encounter with an actress Zulema, played by Cecilia Roth (“All About My Mother,” “Talk to Her”), Mallo reconnects with his early years as a filmmaker. The National Cinematheque is doing a premiere of Mallo’s restored first feature.

The movie event is an excuse to put to an end to an unsettled account with Alberto Crespo, Asier Etxeandia (“Velvet,” “Ma ma”). For both Mallo and Crespo, shooting that film was painful, and Crespo fell into a drug addiction. Now, Crespo visualizes his comeback to the stage in a solo performance using one of Mallo’s most personal writings.

Mallo’s health condition worsens due to heroin addiction. He portrays himself as a junkie with dignity. He remembers his conservative mother with love and admiration; she only wanted a better future for her gifted son. His only regret was that he could “come out” to her at the end of his mother’s life and not earlier.
Alberto Iglesias, music composer. Photo José A. Hermosillo, Festival in LA ©2019
“Pain and Glory’s” extraordinary soundtrack is haunting, revealing, and inspiring. Longtime collaborator Alberto Iglesias (“The Skin I live in,” “Volver,” “The Constant Gardener”) composed the music - emphasizing the dramatic moments without being melodramatic. The cellos, piano, and Spanish guitar made the transitions seamless and stimulating. 

Suppose you are young enough not to know all the work of this prolific director. In that case, you may miss important clues about the true meaning of Almodóvar’s passions and desires and how the director reached that level of creativity and glory. I suggest starting to watch “Law of Desire/La ley del deseo.”

Pedro Almodóvar. Photo José A. Hermosillo, Festival in LA ©2019
If you are old enough to know Almodóvar’s body of work, the sentiment of nostalgia for the 1980s is right there. The evocation of lost love will leave you yearning for more time to amend the past.

In Almodóvar’s films, nothing is casual – one circumstance takes you to the next one, making the most of every element, symbolically speaking. 

In “Pain and Glory,” Almodóvar pulls all strings together to resolve in a conciliatory tone the disagreements with his mother, religion, desires, homosexuality, drug addiction and sex, and the love of his life. 

More than melancholia, Pain and Glory” is a brilliant piece of life, nostalgia, and reconciliation - a catharsis from the tormented soul who will heal and shine again, poetically speaking.

“Pain and Glory” is an intimate masterpiece written and executed with honesty and grandiosity that only directors of the level of Pedro Almodóvar can accomplish.
The President of the Jury, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, congratulates Antonio Banders for his Best Actor win in Cannes: Photo: Cannes 2019
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Festival in LA ©2019

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