It’s your eyes that have changed, not the film.” – Zulema

Pedro Almodóvar‘s work has never been something I would watch a second time. Every time one of his films would get some buzz, I’d go watch it and be disappointed. His newest film ‘Pain and Glory‘ however, might be one of my favourite films of 2019. Plot twist.

Antonio Banderas plays a film director, who reflects on the choices he’s made in life. As past and present come crashing down around him, he realises more than ever before, he’s lived his life the way he always wanted, but at a certain price. We first meet him underwater, sitting on the bottom of his pool, thinking about one beautiful day at the river with his mother and a group of women, doing their laundry. The women harmoniously sing a song under the bright sun, while young Salvador can’t help but smile and stare at his beautiful mother. That’s what I call an immaculate opening scene.

Salva – short for Salvador – explains by the hand of a digital presentation on screen how much of a hypochondriac he is, depending on how he feels or what is happening in his life. He’s obsessed with pain, not just physical, but also mental, which explains why he’s so depressed all the time. The biggest success of his career as a film director ‘Sabor’, is being digitally restored by the Madrilenian Cinematheque. After the release of the original film, he lost touch with Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia), the rebellious star of his film. Since the studio wants to accompany the premiere of his film’s re-release with a Q&A, Salva will have to rekindle with Alberto. When Alberto introduces Salva to heroin, the present and past start to clash with each other and Salva sees this drug as a new awakening. Addicted, he starts a journey of self-discovery and deals with his problems once and for all.

Almodóvar really digs into his own mind and projects it onto the big screen, as if it’s some sort of dreamy autobiography. Nonetheless, this is his magnum opus. The use of colour, especially in Salva’s apartment, with red kitchen cabinets and colourful furniture, is pleasing to the eye, and when a stage play later on in the film gets held in front of a bright red screen, you really feel as if the monologue happening on screen is being told to you in person. Captivating and surreal.

Banderas won a Best Actor Award at Cannes Film Festival, for this film. His quirky portrayal of a depressed artist, stuck inside his own memories, is riveting and rooted in reality. Etxeandia is his equal, even if it’s just for his monologue in the second half of the film. I haven’t been so transfixed by a performance in a very long time.

The flashbacks to Salva’s childhood are sweet and have a sadness looming over them. Young Salva (played by Asier Flores) with his angelic voice and looks, is a star. The way he interacts with his on screen mother (played by an arresting Penélope Cruz) seems so natural, he could’ve been Cruz’s real son. The scenes with them were my favourite, I wish we could’ve seen more of that, but Almodóvar knew exactly what he was doing and kept us hungry for more, when the end credits roll over the screen.

Pain and Glory is a piece of art. It’s a painting filled with virile life. The effectiveness of vibrant colours polishes the canvas with wit, which otherwise would solely be filled with gloom. Almodóvar is a dreamer.

Review – ‘Pain and Glory’

Reviewed at NBC Universal Theatrette, Sydney, Oct. 29, 2019. Australian Classification: TBC. Running time: 113 min.

PRODUCTION: A Universal Pictures release in participation with Canal+, Ciné +, Radio Televisión Española (RTVE) supported by Gobierno de España of a El Deseo, El Primer Deseo production. Producers: Agustín Almodóvar, Ricardo Marco Budé, Ignacio Salazar-Simpson, Esther García. Executive producers: Diego Pajuelo, Barbara Peiro.

CREW: Director, screenplay: Pedro Almodóvar. Camera (color, widescreen): José Luis Alcaine. Editor: Teresa Font. Music: Alberto Iglesias.

WITH: Antonio Banderas, Asier Etxeandia, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Nora Navas, Julieta Serrano, César Vicente, Asier Flores, Penélope Cruz, Cecilia Roth, Susi Sánchez.

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