This is a film that understands the attraction of the human character, and exposes someone in an extraordinary position
The question of what makes a truly great director is a fascinating one. Is it someone who can translate another’s script into a cinematic showing without knowing the full meaning and intent of every word on the page? That just comes down to interpretation, and the script writer will always hold the entire understanding however much a director actually gets to excrete from them. Is it a visionary who understands their own script in and out and why it works as a piece on its own and then why it would work as a feature. Or is it perhaps the underrated ability of television directors working to a brief with other directors and often multiple writers? This has the be the most restricting style to work with. But realistically the only answer is anyone who can master any of those options.
It’s clear that Pedro Almodovar could do any of these, (naturally he chooses not to and does what he wants), but his command and understanding of what a director can do is quite astounding, and his ability to create coherent engaging and beautiful features is simply ethereal to watch. Pain And Glory has all of this in abundance, working as a slow creation of a jigsaw, starting with the edges and working inwards toward who Salvador Mallo, performed immensely by Antonio Banderas in probably his best performance to date, actually is. It is planned, produced and executed in the most beautiful of fashions, and becomes one of the best character pieces cinema has seen for some years.
Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) is a retired film maker, hiding from those he once knew and many of the people he was closest to, partially due to the immense pain and suffering he struggles through as an adult. When asked to speak at a viewing of what is regarded as one of his greatest pieces, Mallo reluctantly contacts an actor he has not spoken to for years, despite their major falling out after the release of Sabor. Developing a heroin addiction with the assistance of Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia), Mallo experiences a passionately revealing portion of his life, opening his eyes to both his past and the pain he currently experiences.
Pain and Glory plays host to a balance that seems to have been measured perfectly. The flick between the Banderas led modern section and the Penelope Cruz detailed flashbacks is beautifully poised, and genuinely promotes a fascinating insight into the character Almodovar and Banderas have created together. There’s a real empathy given to Mallo, and that could only come from the formation of the split vision of who he is, and how he came to be like that.
It’s an entirely passionate piece, and it promotes a love of family, cinema and comedy, as it looks into the ordinary life of someone who is clearly an extraordinary character. It even closes in on becoming a nostalgic piece looking back on a character’s life as they enter their final moments, which Banderas expertly steers his character away from before it becomes too morbid. Pain and Glory features a lot of moping and self reflection, but never does that become eye-rolling or snooze inducing. This is a film that understands the attraction of the human character, and exposes someone in an extraordinary position.
Pain and Glory offers a marvellous insight into the normality of the rich, and how fame takes its toll in so many ways. There’s an acknowledgement of problems, and the way these will make an individual feel, without exposing them to ridicule. Almodovar has produced an excellent work that feels as important as it does understanding of the world around it, and where its position in that world actually is.
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