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  • Writer's pictureStefanos Yoo-Min Florakis

Review - Pain & Glory (Dolor y Gloria)

Antonio Banderas as Salvador Mallo

Visiting a film by Pedro Almodóvar always implicated the viewer to come to a much larger understanding of a deep element about the Spanish filmmaker. From having the female leading mother as the backbone of the story, dealing with homosexuality of men in times of prejudice, and despairs of artistic minds in the Franco-era Spain. Pain & Glory is no different to that, but it could be his most profound and personal work to date.

If you are not familiar or have not experienced his most acclaimed work (aka All About My Mother, Talk To Her or Volver) then this film would be the best introduction to Almodóvar. Usually his work has a sense of melodrama and camp, which could be a throw off for some. Pain & Glory is one of his most settled and calm films of his career.

The film follows Spanish filmmaker Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas), a Madrid based middle-aged auteur who after being asked to attend to a negative restoration of a 32-year-old film of his, tries to reconnect with the star of that film, Alberto (Asier Etxeandia), with whom hasn't talked to since the film's premiere. While they patch up their wounds, Alberto finds a written transcript of Salvador as a deep confession of his past. Alberto wishes to make it into a play, which puts Salvador in an inner journey into his childhood, his first desire, old love and his complicated relationship with his mother (young: Penélope Cruz, old: Julieta Serrano).

Almodóvar has made a film that has been characterized as his closest auto-biographical project, especially from his associates, non the less of Antonio Banderas. The tortured artist with a bound connection with the city of Madrid, with a long legacy in the art-form, surrounded with abstract paintings which are close correlations with the filmmaker. Where things become more personal is the exploration of Salvador's past.

Living in the small village with his hard-working parents, with his mother being the biggest part of his childhood and discovering his sexuality and educational wonder in that secluded area of Spain.

The film itself is an exploration of the past. The history of a regretful artist, filled with physical and psychological pain, leading him to depression, drug addiction (both medical and non) and to be able to be creative in the field he loves.

The story is separated to four acts, each one focusing on a person with some sort of undisclosed personal issues. Through the run of the film, Salvador gets to face the memories or even the people to finally find closure in the very final shot.

Even though the themes of depression, addiction, guilt and sorrow are not the most cheerful on text, Pain & Glory ends up being extremely optimistic and beautiful. No less from the colourful and vibrant set design and the neoclassical romanticism from the cinematographer and long-time collaborator, José Luis Alcaine, who conveys typical tropes of the filmmaker.

The script is also filled with the wit and quick humour of Almodóvar, coupled with the incredible score of Alberto Iglesias, a mix of both orchestral and electronic music, bringing an awe of an operatic play with the sound mixing composing an aid to understand how Salvador's mind actually is.

The film would have not been successful without Antonio Banderas in the leading role. Banderas, this year's winner of the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival, gives his most profound and heartfelt performance. For years he has been portraying the heartthrobs, action/ comedy star or even the villain. But this is his most quiet, soft spoken and emotionally rich work that I have ever seen. His character says in the film (paraphrasing) "great acting is not being able to cry, but being able to hold yourself from crying," something that Banderas achieves with flying colours. There are moments of dialogue when his eyes truly show exactly how he feels and thinks with a completely pure intention and empathy.

Besides Salvador's looks (haircut and clothing), social status and sexuality, not much else is closely connected to Almodóvar, besides the relationship with his mother. The filmmaker has been open about the things that he was able to say to his mother before she passed away, and the film fully represents itself as a goodbye letter to her.

All the scenes between Banderas and Julieta Serrano were the absolute highlight of the film, that truly signifies the overall cornerstone of the film, and even maybe the filmmaker himself.

A wonderful experience from a still powerful auteur, that is both a great introduction and continuation to his filmography. Excellent production levels, fantastic score and performances (special shout to Asier Etxeandia, Leonardo Sbaraglia and Penélope Cruz).

Even though I would not say it's my favourite of Almodóvar (the crown still belongs to Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) but it stands very close.

Also, if the Academy does not nominate Banderas (and hopefully win) for the Best Actor category, I am going to buy all the Green Book DVDs and burn them front of their offices.

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