Wednesday 20 January 2021

Movie Review: Pain And Glory (2019)

A portrait of a once-famous film director navigating enforced retirement, Pain And Glory is a low-key drama exploring a life of struggle and passion.

In Madrid, Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) is a once-famous film director suffering through numerous physical ailments including a bad back. The severe pain prevents him from even thinking of directing again. One of his old films is selected for a retrospective festival, prompting Salvador to reconnect with actor Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia). The two men had a falling out over artistic differences, but now older and supposedly wiser they become friends, Alberto supplying Salvador with heroin to blunt the persistent pain.

Old tensions between the two men re-emerge, and the heroin habit becomes a dependency. But Alberto insists on performing a one-man play based on one of Salvador's short stories, resulting in another unexpected emotive reunion. Meanwhile, in flashbacks, Salvador recalls his difficult upbringing, including the sacrifices of his mother Jacinta (Penélope Cruz) and his earliest awakening to physical attraction.

A semi-autobiographical effort from writer and director Pedro Almodóvar, Pain And Glory goes to the sad place where glamour and applause yield to memories and regrets. This is an intimate portrait of a man who has experienced professional highs but is now flirting with depression caused by loneliness, emptiness, and omnipresent physical pain. It's not exactly exhilarating subject matter, and the film unfolds slowly, with plenty of soul but fitful energy.

With Penélope Cruz in typically vivacious form, Salvador's childhood flashbacks are presented through a romanticized lens, Jacinta an enterprising and resourceful hero insisting her son secures an education despite financial hardship.

But the glory years are entirely missing and only inferred, and this omission handicaps the narrative. Almodóvar demands sympathy for Salvador as a celebrated artist going through a dark period, and Antonio Banderas' delicate, understated performance elicits the necessary autumnal tones. But the missing middle means the poverty of early years and the pain of advancing age bookend unstated achievements and unexplored emotions.

Better are the innovative devices used to recollect various life chapters. The flashbacks are augmented by Alberto's stage performance reliving Salvador's most passionate love affair, then a modern-day reunion marking the passage of time and divergent fortunes. More elaborate is a flashback to a more recent time with Jacinda, and a most elegantly staged fortuitous discovery at an art show.

Pain And Glory is a staid but still eloquent commentary on a life at the crossroads, buckling in agony but leaning on the past to resist surrender.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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