Starring: Antonio Banderas, Asier Etxeandia, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Penelope Cruz, Julieta Serrano, and Cesar Vicente
Distributor: Sony Pictures
Runtime: 113 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2019
This Spanish, subtitled drama is written and directed by Pedro Almodovar, who has directed quality films in the past such as “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” (1988), and “All about my Mother (1999)”. At the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, Antonio Banderas won the Festival’s Best Actor award for it. The film is autobiographical in its intent, and tells the story of a film Director who reflects on his life, his past and present achievements, and the motivations and choices that have shaped him. The film is a thinly disguised version of Almovodar’s actual life, and is Almovodar’s 21st film.
In the film, Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) is ageing, poor in health, severely depressed, and his life is in professional decline. Life events are remembered by him now with pain and joy. The film argues that recovering memories from the past can have a therapeutic effect, which Salvador pursues to re-energise and re-channel his ailing motivation.
Salvador re-lives his schooling days, his first adult love in the 1980s, his joyous discovery of the cinema, and the art of film-making that has been so important to him. Currently, he is in the middle of a creative crisis, and decides to renew contact with Alberto Crestor (Asier Etxeandia), an actor, who he quarrelled with 32 years previously. In fantasy and reality, he has a series of encounters with persons who have been significant to him, including his mother (Penelope Cruz) when he was a young boy; his ex-lover, Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia); his elderly mother (Julieta Serrano):, and a local labourer (Cesar Vicente) who helps resolve Salvador’s crisis with a painting the labourer had done of him in the past for teaching him how to read and write.
In recalling significant moments in his life, Salvador re-experiences love and separation, and retrieves the experiences he had of personal happiness, sexual longing, and professional success. The most important thing for him now is his capacity to experience the vibrant connection between life and art. In all his memories, pain and glory feature – which gives the movie its title.
The film is stylish, and exceptionally well made, and its impact is highly emotional. From his past, Almovodar resurrects the personal significance of the relationship between mother and son, the nature of longing and art, and some of his conflicts about the Catholic Church.
This is a sensual movie that is vibrantly photographed with a focus on the primary colours of black, white, red, green, and blue – in a kaleidoscope of vivid, attention-getting, patterned and/or delineated scenarios. Banderas is entirely believable as the film Director, Salvador, who acts out the major crises in Almovodar’s life. The film itself is visually stunning, well scripted, and personal, and it drifts over Almovodar’s past in a gentle, hypnotic-like way that is highly introspective.
Antonio Banderas plays Almovodar touchingly. He captures Almovodar as a Director struggling to move forward, but retreating into the past to re-discover what he experienced before. Banderas’s task is made more credible by the fact that he has acted in Almovodar’s films for over three decades, and Almovodar has contributed enormously to help make him the movie star he now is.
In past films, Pedro Almovodar has shown himself to be a provocative and controversial Director. He has played fast and loose with human sexuality, for example, and he has offered strong criticisms of the Catholic Church. Similar elements occur in this movie, but laying Almodovar’s preconceptions aside, this film demonstrates quite clearly that he is a master craftsman of the art of creative film-making.
The film mixes fiction with reality imaginatively, and unlocks Almovodar’s personal conflicts in a thoughtful, and thoroughly absorbing way.
Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
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