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Film review: Pain & Glory

Film & TV

Antonio Banderas gives one of his finest performances in Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar’s new semi-autobiographical movie about an ageing director confronted by past and present.

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Pedro Almodóvar whisks his viewers away in Pain & Glory, as what feels like a series of disconnected vignettes turns into a beautiful through line come the end of the third act.

The film follows director Salvador Mallo (played by Almodóvar’s long-time collaborator Antonio Banderas) on a liberating journey as he rediscovers his love for film-making in the face of his own declining health.

Mallo is confronted by past and present, played congruently as they swim together in a stream of vivid memories. We see his search for success, as well as the happiness and sadness that come with love and separation.

Upon the re-release of one of his films, Sabor, he begrudgingly reconnects with former star Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia), who introduces him to heroin. This sparks a string of recollections for Mallo: of his mother Jacinta (Penelope Cruz), his childhood, a first crush and his budding homosexuality.

The film brims with character, and as more of Mallo’s story unravels, the viewer cannot help but laugh and cry along with his emotional journey.

Flanked by a cast of colourful and lively characters and aided by Almodóvar’s wonderful script and direction, Banderas gives a breathtaking performance. It won him the best actor prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and there is buzz that he may score his first Academy Award nomination.

Pain & Glory is also the seventh Almodóvar film to be submitted by Spain for nomination at the Oscars (others included Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and award winners All About My Mother and Talk To Her). Those familiar with his earlier work will recognise his distinctive directing style, but here it is perfected in a layered and gorgeous film.

Although it is truly Almodóvar’s writing and Banderas’ moving performance that carry the film, the score (Alberto Iglesias) continuously strums, creating a rich companion for some of the finer cinematography of José Luis Alcaine (who previously teamed with Almodóvar on Volver and The Skin I Live In).

Pain & Glory acts as a self-portrait of sorts – a reflection of Almodóvar’s own life.

It’s a passionate work from the filmmaker, now in his 70s, as he brings a seemingly cathartic story to a wider audience and makes us all reflect on a life lived with beauty and elegance.

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