Ever since I saw Pedro Almodovar’s All About My Mother I’ve been a huge fan of the Spanish auteur. I’ve always been impressed by how this filmmaker can make films that are outwardly so outlandish in scope; with their eccentric characters, brightly hued colour palettes, and melodramatic storylines… feel so intimate and authentic.
A lot of has to do I think with the autobiographical elements the filmmaker sprinkles into his stories. With his latest film, Pain and Glory, Almodovar creates one of his most personal stories yet.
It follows a charming but depressed ageing director Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas in a career-best performance). Salvador is not-so-subtly inspired by Almodovar himself. His house is apparently an exact replica of Almodovar’s, and Banderas even wears some of the director’s own clothes.
One of the reasons Banderas’s performance is so great here is while he gives a brilliant homage to one of his most frequent collaborators (the pair have made eight movies together since the 1980s) he still manages to make Salvador feel like his own man. Never once when you’re watching the film do you feel like “This is Banderas playing Almodovar.”
Salvador hasn’t made a film in years and he’s consumed with a litany of physical ailments that may or may not be psychosomatic in nature. Just when he’s wondering what the hell to do with himself, he gets a call from the local cinematheque; they want to screen one of his films from thirty years ago and would like him to come speak to the audience afterwards.
This call inspires Salvador to track down the star of the film Alberto (Asier Etxeandia) with whom he famously had a falling out years before. Seeing Alberto again is both a disaster (he convinces Salvador to try heroin for the first time) and a good thing; it allows Salvador to reflect on other key moments from his past.
He ends up reconciling with an old lover. We see glimpses of his relationship with his mother (Penelope Cruz and then portrayed in later years by Julietta Serrano) and his first crush on a local handyman Eduardo (Cesar Vincent) that sparked his realization that he was queer.
Dealing with these ghosts of his past seems to spark hope in the director. He may not be the bad boy of Spanish cinema anymore, but he’s ready to create more personal, contemplative stories.
Again it’s hard not to see the parallels between Salvador and Almodovar himself here; because this film is without a doubt his most personal and contemplative yet. Critics have been comparing this film to Fellini’s 8 1/2 and it’s an apt comparison.
Let’s just hope instead of a filmmaker at the end of his career looking back, that this is just the beginning of many more Almodovar films to come.
Pain and Glory plays on October 17th at The Festival du Nouveau Cinema and opens in regular theatres October 18th