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Film Review: “Pain and Glory” Offers Neither, But Still Diverts

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | October 10th, 2019

Film poster: “Pain and Glory”

Pain and Glory (“Dolor y gloria”) (Pedro Almodóvar, 2019) 2½ out of 4 stars.

Pedro Almodóvar’s latest film offers neither excessive pain nor great glory, so megalomaniacal masochists, beware. It is a very personal film, however, so there are plenty of sensations to savor, even if the sum total feeling at the end is more of a pleasant daydream than a magnificent fantasy. That is fine as movies go, but given the seriousness of nostalgic intent on display, one hopes for more. Still, it is always good to see actor Antonio Banderas (The Skin I Live In) paired with the man who launched his career, since his performances seem richer under the maestro’s expert hands. Together, they hold our interest for Pain and Glory’s 113 minutes, even if they do nothing extraordinary.

Banderas plays Salvador Mallo, a sixtyish Spanish movie director now in effective retirement, given his lack of inspiration and constant aches. When a Madrid cinematheque plans a screening of an early film of his, he seeks out the actor, Alberto (Asier Etxeandia), who starred in it, from who he has long been estranged. Though Alberto is now a functional heroin addict, the two men still reconnect and somewhat re-bond, though not to Salvador’s benefit, since he quickly takes to his old friend’s drug of choice, given the relief it gives him from his constant discomfort. Alberto, meanwhile, seizes upon a story he finds on Salvador’s computer that might offer him a juicy comeback role in a dramatic adaptation.

Antonio Banderas in PAIN AND GLORY ©Sony Pictures Classics

Meanwhile, we cut constantly back to Salvador’s childhood, when he was “Salva” and basked in his mother’s love. Played by Penelope Cruz (Volver), she is a deeply religious woman forced to live in an underground house – a “cave” she calls it – by her ne’er-do-well husband. Whatever grudges she may harbor, it makes for a very cinematic location, so much so that an ending reveal of the truth of what we see comes hardly as a surprise. Young Salva is a vibrant, creative young boy, very much a future artist. He’s also gay, though he doesn’t know it yet; we watch the blossoming of his first crush.

A meditation on how the past influences the present and on the many ways in which memories are always with us, Pain and Glory presents not-so-deep thoughts on weighty subjects, all lushly photographed in the way that only Almodóvar can. We may not emerge from the film transformed, but we have at least been visually regaled. That is no small thing. I’ll take it, even if I’m jonesing for stronger stuff.

Penelope Cruz in PAIN AND GLORY ©Sony Pictures Classics

In Spanish, with English subtitles

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is Managing Editor at Film Festival Today; lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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