Unless I’m forgetting something, this review should see the end of my Oscar film reviews. I managed to watch all of the full-length feature films nominated in the majority of the categories. I didn’t have time to get through all of the international nominees because of time and cause I suck at watching international films. I need to work on that. However, I did manage to knock a couple off the list. Thanks to the runaway success that was Parasite I saw that early on. Then Antonio Banderas’ nomination for Best Actor meant that I caught up with Pain and Glory. It felt as though Banderas was rarely mentioned in the run-up to the Oscars because the conversation was dominated by Joaquin Phoenix and, to a lesser extent, Adam Driver. Unfortunately, it never really seemed as though Banderas was an option regardless of how much he may have deserved it. Much in the same way that Tom Hanks never really registered in his category for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. Still, that wasn’t going to stop me watching it. I had to make up my own mind about who deserved to win.
For his 21st film, director Pedro Almodóvar is getting even more introspective and personal. Pain and Glory revolves around an ageing film director who is moving away from his career and facing a life of poor health, depression, and obscurity. Antonio Banderas plays Salvador Mallo, a man who is plagued by his past. As you can expect from the title, it is a film that is full of both sadness and joy and Almodóvar balances the two wonderfully. You won’t even be able to keep up with your changing emotions as you go from crying to laughing without even realising. The film is about memory and legacy.
Years after his mother’s death and living in pain following back surgery, Salvador is no longer making films and has retreated from life as much as possible. When one of his early works, Sabor, is rereleased, the director decides to reach out to his former friend and star of the film. They haven’t spoken since their disagreements on set but, over time, Salvador has realised that he was being a little pig-headed. Eventually, the actor, Alberto Crespo, comes round and the pair begin spending time together. Alberto introduces Salvador to heroin who then finds it useful for dealing with his pain. It also kickstarts a period of reflection that sees Salvador look back on his past lover, his mother, and his career. We experience the key moments of Salvador’s past and we see him come face-to-face with the parts of his life that shaped him.
The film is undeniably well-made and is very clever. With the help of cinematographer José Luis Alcaine and production designer Antxón Gómez the film is full of rich colours and warmth. Every scene pops and we can almost see the creative juices flowing before our very eyes. The colour palette is beautiful and vibrant but it never goes too far. Almodóvar keeps absolute control over proceedings and creates something truly breathtaking. There is a colour for every situation and the vibrancy of the world almost highlights Salvador’s loneliness. Almodóvar also finds some clever ways to transition between scenes and includes plenty of references to his love of film. This is definitely a film made by someone who lives and breathes cinema. By someone who understands it and is excited at the prospect of creating something new.
Almodóvar also knows how to bring the best performance from his star. Banderas offers a career-high here and it’s clear to see why he did so well in Cannes. The actor manages to provide both a huge and small performance in one go. He does everything he needs to do but is very careful not to overplay it. There is no sense of go here but regard forll character and storytelling. Salvador is obviously weighed down by his past and you can see this in the way he moves and carries himself. He is vulnerable and lost as he tries to come to terms with his past and move forward with his life. It is a very clever and compelling performance and Banderas should have been one of the strongest contesters in the Best Actor category this year.
Almodóvar has done personal films in the past but Pain and Glory feels even more revealing. He may be telling the story of a director who feels disconnected from life and cinema but, from watching this, it’s clear that Almodóvar is still connected. There is humanity and life surging through this film. There is creativity and inspiration in every frame. Through a story filled with pain and loss, the real-life director wonderfully shows his love for his craft. His story flips back and forth between the present and Salvador’s flashbacks. Even though part of me felt that the jumping timeline caused the film to lose some of its emotional resonance, I accepted it more than I normally would. There is an order to everything even though it might feel chaotic or random. One thing naturally leads to another. A moment in the present leads to a memory of the past which leads us forwards again. There is such a great amount of care and balance here. It’s a glorious work and gives us a phenomenal performance from it’s leading man. I’m so glad that I saw this.