Antonio Banderas

Published November 3, 2019 by Robert W. Butler at Butler’s Cinema Scene

My rating: B+ (Opens Nov. 8 at the Town Center) | 113 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The dominant aural element of Pedro Almodovar’s “Pain & Glory” is a solo oboe exuding gentle melancholy.

It’s the perfect soundtrack for one of this director’s best films, a semi-autobiographical (just how autobiographical will no doubt be debated at length) attempt to capture the limits of one man’s existence.

It’s not a busy film, nor is it particularly amusing or sensational in the ways that once made Almodovar the bad boy of Spanish cinema. “Pain and Glory” starts slowly and quietly builds in intensity until it delivers an overwhelmingly emotional experience.

Antonio Banderas,  the hunky sex object of Almodovar’s earlier efforts, stars as Salvador, a sixtysomething filmmaker who hasn’t had a new project in years.  We first meet him underwater in a swimming pool…turns out that floating  is one of the few things that relieves his physical and spiritual maladies.

In an animated sequence Salvador outlines his various infirmities, which range from fused vertebrae to migraines, digestive issues, outbreaks of tendonitis and, naturally enough, depression. All this has left him a virtual recluse; on most days he sees only his devoted secretary/Girl Friday Mercedes (Nora Navas).

“Pain & Glory” unfolds simultaneously in the present and in the past.

In the here and now Salvador learns that one of his films — made more than 30 years earlier — has been restored and is being given a special screening at the national cinematheque.  This results in a reunion between the director and the film’s leading man, Alberto (Asier Etxeandia). The two had a falling out and haven’t spoken in three decades.

They tentatively reignite their friendship; perhaps even more important to Salvador, Alberto turns him on to heroin, the only drug he hasn’t tried to cope with his almost constant pain.

Asier Etxeandia, Antonio Banderas

Now at this point most films would announce an intention to dissect the ins and outs of drug abuse. Not here.  This isn’t an addiction movie, at least not in the conventional sense.

Anyway, Salvador allows Alberto to mount a one-man play he has written (though out of filmmaking, Salvador can’t help developing ideas for films), and this leads to one of the film’s most tender scenes.

Attending the play is Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia), who was Salvador’s lover back in the day. Now married and living in Argentina, Federico is in Madrid on a legal matter. He recognizes scenes from his own past in the play and visits Salvador.  This meeting of former lovers is one of the most beautifully moderated sequences in any Almodovar film.

It ends with a chaste kiss which will, if you have any heart at all, leave you choking back a sob.

A good chunk of “Pain…” unfolds in Salvador’s memories.  We see him as a  young boy (Asier Flores) with his working class mother (Almodovar regular Penelope Cruz) and witness scenes from his education at a Jesuit seminary (the kid has no interest in the priesthood but his parents couldn’t turn down the scholarship).

Penelope Cruz, Asier Flores

We eavesdrop on his relationship to a young artist (Cesar Vicente); it  will be the boy’s first awareness of  his gayness and result in a watercolor portrait of the young Salvador that will fall into his possession only 50 years later.

And we see how as his widowed mother aged (she’s now played by Julieta Serrano) Salvador provides nurturing care.  In fact, it is with her death that most of his ailments come to the fore.

Early on a viewer may wonder if the loosely plotted “Pain & Glory” is going anywhere.  Perhaps not, in the conventional story-telling sense, at least.

But as an emotional narrative it is a spectacularly engaging work, an evocation of one man’s life so rich and moving that it burrows deep and will not be dislodged.

| Robert W. Butler

Read the original review and more reviews at Butler’s Cinema Scene


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Robert W. Butler for 41 years reviewed films for the Kansas City Star. In May 2011 he was downsized.

He couldn’t take the hint.

OKAY, so here’s the deal. I write mostly about movies. One good thing about no longer writing for the paper is that I’m free to ignore the big dumb Hollywood turkeys that don’t interest me. So don’t expect every blessed release to be written about here. Many films aren’t worth the effort. Besides, at my age it’s not the $8. It’s the two hours.

UPDATE: OCTOBER, 2014: Well, here’s an interesting twist. The Star wants me back as a freelance film reviewer!!! Apparently enough time has passed that they cannot be accused of firing me so that they can rehire me at a fraction of my original pay (I gather the federal government frowns upon that practice.) So from now on I will probably be reviewing a movie a week for the newspaper.