The Movie Waffler New Release Review - PAIN AND GLORY | The Movie Waffler

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New Release Review - PAIN AND GLORY

pain and glory review
A film director reflects on the choices he's made in life as the past and present come crashing down around him.


Review by Musanna Ahmed

Directed by: Pedro Almodóvar

Starring: Antonio Banderas, Asier Etxeandia, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Penélope Cruz, Nora Navas, Julieta Serrano

pain and glory poster

Fellini’s ​8 1⁄2 was immediately hailed as a masterpiece and continues to endure as one of the greatest films ever made, appreciated by critics and audiences alike. Naturally, many filmmakers have been inspired by the Italian's magnum opus, which follows a filmmaker who retreats into his memories and imagination for inspiration to make a new film. Examples of such inspired auteurs include Woody Allen (Stardust Memories), François Truffaut (Day for Night) and Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty). I believe every great filmmaker has a similar story to tell, and Pedro Almodóvar is the latest one to do so with Pain and Glory.


pain and glory review

The life and career of great Spanish film director Salvador Mallo (played by longtime muse Antonio Banderas) is dwindling. He’s a sick man, with various physical pains including ones expounded by undiagnosed coughing fits. Furthermore, his mental health is in distress, owing to his professional struggles. The Filmoteca Española has a renewed interest in one of Mallo’s early films, 'Sabor', and invites him and his lead actor Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia) to participate in a Q&A following an anniversary screening of the 30+ year old movie.

The director hasn’t spoken to the actor since they made the movie; it was an intense collaboration due to Crespo’s unchecked heroin habits during the shoot. Mallo was unhappy with Crespo’s performance at the time but believes it’s grown in stature since then - citing that the actor’s drugged state now gives texture to the character - thus prompting him to hold out an olive branch and reconcile with his lead actor. The kicker is that Crespo is still a bit of a smackhead, and introduces the pipe to the creatively crestfallen Mallo.


pain and glory review

Under the influence, Mallo retreats into his memories of a penurious childhood with his mother Jacinta, who’s played by Penélope Cruz, the actress whose enormous talents are always reliable for any director but especially Almodóvar, with whom she’s formed of one of the greatest director-actor pairings. Living in a cave-like residence, young Salvador sees his family’s chiseled builder Eduardo (César Vicente) in the nude, an event that stimulates his sexual awakening.

A key relationship in Mallo’s life is with Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia), an old friend recalled in a theatrical piece cooked up by Crespo. Federico and Mallo reunite and the shot-reverse-shot images of pure joy in Sbaraglia and Banderas’ expressions is a rich sequence of two characters feeling elated and in love. I can see it broken down and meme-ified by a niche corner of Film Twitter and - of course - memes are the new form of legitimacy for a film’s legacy. Outside of the viral potential, there is genuine humour employed by Almodóvar, particularly in the sitcom relations between Mallo and Crespo.

pain and glory review

This is a story of addiction, sickness and old age, the things that make us aware of our mortality and trigger existential crises. At heart, it’s very near and dear to Almodóvar but he infuses his story with a painful universality - much like how Fellini did, with so many creatives seeing their own story within the life and times of Guido Anselmi. Pain and Glory is meta and slightly oneiric but the pleasures are derived less from connecting the dots between Mallo and Almodóvar, and more from the excellent character study in the writing and performances.

Banderas is no mere mouthpiece for the filmmaker; he’s a full-blooded vessel who profoundly exhibits the conflict and melancholy of a visionary in a rut. It almost feels like an empirical study of the actor, as well as his director, given the commitment Banderas shows in portraying Salvador Mallo, and the film might not have been as effective without the presence of a great, iconic actor of Spanish cinema to portray a great, iconic Spanish filmmaker. Though, one distinction between Banderas and Almodóvar is that Banderas has never been nominated for an Oscar. If the Academy is just, that should change this year. For both Almodóvar and Banderas, Pain and Glory is true late-career glory, born out of pain.

Pain and Glory is in UK/ROI cinemas August 23rd.


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