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  • Colin Fraser


FOUR STARS A Spanish director reflects that maybe he's not as good as everyone says he is.


Starring Antonio Banderas, Penelope Cruz

Pedro Almodovar is in a contemplative mood. The Spanish titan behind acclaimed films like WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN, THE FLOWER OF MY SECRET and the sublime, ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER has turned inward for inspiration. Although he claims it’s not autobiographical, PAIN AND GLORY is about an ageing film director who makes up with an estranged actor while reflecting on his life amid his artistic struggle to find something meaningful to say about his life. But Almodovar’s not fooling anyone and since it stars Antonio Banderas with whom he famously fell out for a couple of decades, it rather underlines the autobiographical point.

As mentioned, he’s in an introspective mood and a muted one at that. There’s none of the blunt outrageousness that defined his earlier work but it would be unwelcome if it was present, an ill-fit for this often emotional story that is bathed in wry humour. There’s much navel gazing in this utterly delightful, somewhat self-deprecative story as Salvador Mallo (Banderas) decides what he’s going to do with his life. He’s arrived in a professional and emotional cul-de-sac, concerned that his best professional, and probably emotional, years could be behind him.

PAIN AND GLORY is a superb work of meta-fiction that neatly ties in all the tones, tunes and themes that have informed all of Almodovar’s best work (which is most of his work, to be fair). There’s drama high and low, piety and introspection, love, lust, longing, pain, pleasure, sex and death all wrapped up in glorious melodrama anchored by a finely tuned performance from Banderas. Yet it’s an Almodovar production throughout; he doesn’t miss an opportunity to arouse his audience whether that’s with the witty, intelligence of the script or the intoxicating sensuality of the frame.

There’s an agreeably meandering tone that affords Banderas the opportunity to deliver some of his best work in years. High praise given he’s navigated his way into late-middle-age as an actor of distinction. Accordingly he lends Mallo, and by extension Almodovar, an air of complicated grace underpinned by a nervous anxiety that maybe he’s not as good as everyone says he is. he revisits his mother (Penelope Cruz) in flashback. He makes up with an ex-colleague and makes out with an ex-flame. It makes him complicated. It makes him funny and fascinating. It makes PAIN AND GLORY a joy.

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