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Pain And Glory

(Dolor y gloria)

2019 Cannes Film Festival Winner – Best Actor (Antonio Banderas)

A gorgeously crafted memoir of a jaded filmmaker past his prime, Pain And Glory could be Pedro Almodóvar’s most autobiographical work since Law Of Desire. The grand irony, of course, is that there’s nothing jaded about the filmmaking on display: it’s drenched in a passion for cinema and shows Almodóvar at the peak of his powers. There’s no sense of waning creativity, only a mood of longing and nostalgia that’s unmistakeably from a deeply personal place. You could call it Almodóvar’s Cinema Paradiso.

Poster for the new Almodóvar rumination Pain & GloryThe man at its heart is Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas, winner of the Best Actor prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival), a Madrid filmmaker suffering from all sorts of aches, pains and maladies that make him a prisoner in his own body. He questions his mortality as a matter of routine, but his immortality – professionally, at least – is guaranteed by Taste, an arthouse smash from the ’80s that’s being celebrated with an upcoming screening. He’s been invited, along with the film’s star Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia), and asked to participate in a Q&A afterwards. The wrinkle is that the pair fell out while making the movie and haven’t spoken since, and when Salvador initiates a reconciliation, it ends in a heroin-addled fug. The Q&A, inevitably, doesn’t go well.

Banderas is terrific. He’s Almodóvar’s on-screen alter ego right down to the greying rebel hairdo and strikingly coloured outfit of polo shirt and trainers. He inhabits the character with a sense of haunted distraction; a man in his sixties belatedly trying to reconcile with his earlier life and clear his emotional debts.

Pain And Glory dips repeatedly into Salvador’s past, with old memories floating through the film like a breeze through an open window. The film begins with his mother (played by Penélope Cruz in her younger years, and Julieta Serrano in later life) singing along to a flamenco song as a group of women wash white sheets by a river. We see the boy Salvador with his mother as the town around them celebrates a local holiday and sets off fireworks. Later, there’s a sexual awakening as the young Salvador spies a bare-skinned builder showering himself in a garden surrounded by whitewashed walls. 

Almodóvar fills this poignant tapestry of recollections with bold colours and infuses them with emotional detail. It’s a deeply intimate experience and it’ll pierce your heart.

– Josep Lambies, Time Out

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