★★★★★ - STUFF
- Pedro Almodovar has cast Antonio Banderas in eight films, across 40 years.
It is one of the most enduring and influential creative partnerships in cinema. Pain and Glory might be the most sublime work either of the men has had their name on for many years.
Banderas plays Salvador. He is a film-maker living through a creative and spiritual slump. He burst on to the screen in the early 1980s with a small run of sensationally witty and sensual dramas and comedies. But now, living in his beautifully appointed apartment in Madrid, his body wracked with illnesses and pain, Salvador is wondering whether he even has another film, or another love, within him.
A series of encounters with his past align. A retrospective screening of his first film puts Salvador back in contact with his lead actor, a man who he had a nettlesome relationship with at best. But a friendship is reforged over drug use and a re-evaluation of their quarrels. Soon enough, Salvador is looking back at his own childhood, excavating it for stories, ideas and clues to his current predicament.
Pain and Glory scatters memories – probably idealised ones – across its narrative. Salvador at nine years old is a shy, watchful boy, in awe of his mother (Penelope Cruz, of course) as she chafes against small village life as a single parent.
Pain and Glory isn't a film about making peace with the past. Almodovar isn't capable of anything so trite. But it is a film about the constant presence of past and the need to always acknowledge it as our own. When Salvador's mother, now near death, re-enters his life, he is forcefully reminded that although he has been a success in the world's eyes, he has apparently failed terribly as a son. It's a tough, blunt, moment and Almodovar does nothing to soften it.
Pain and Glory is a beautiful film. It is savagely funny at times, achingly melancholic at others. If you are a fan of Almodovar already, just know that this is one of his strongest films of the last decade at least. And easily one of my favourite films of the year so far.
- Graeme Tuckett, STUFF