Pain and Glory
Stars: Antonio Banderas, Penélope Cruz, Asier Etxeandia, Julieta Serrano, Leonardo Sbaraglia
Semi-autobiographical but never self-indulgent, the latest from Almodóvar is an uncharacteristically low-key and autumnal meditation on love, ageing, family and the creative process which nods to Fellini’s ‘8½’. A grizzled Banderas is Almodovar surrogate Salvador Mallo, a sixty-something director beset with health problems as well as a creative block. When a Madrid cinematheque announces it has arranged a thirty-year anniversary screening of his breakthrough hit ‘Sabor’, Mallo decides he wants to patch it up with the film’s star, Alberto Crespo (Etxeandia) after a lengthy fall-out. He tracks down Crespo to his cluttered apartment, and, as they gradually reacquaint themselves over a shot of heroin, Mallo casts his mind back to his childhood when he was a nine-year-old living in the caves of Paterna with his doughty mother (Cruz). The visuals are typically lush and the mise-en-scene as sublime as ever, but there’s a subtlety and rich reflectiveness too, best evidenced in the sequence when Mallo encounters an old flame, Argentinian Federico (Sbaraglia) at the theatre, and the two have a frank conversation about their respective feelings for one another. Banderas, all too often reduced to playing Latino stereotypes in English language pictures, delivers his best and most nuanced performance to date.