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Pain & Glory – Almodóvar’s Masterpiece

7 November

Pain and Glory, releasing November 7th

In 1982 and at the age of just twenty-two, Antonio Banderas made his onscreen debut in Pedro Almodóvar’s Labyrinth of Passion. Over the next seven years Banderas would appear in four more Almodóvar films, usually in starring roles and to modest critical acclaim. However, after denying a part in Almodóvar’s 1993 film Kika, instead opting to launch his English-speaking film career with The Mambo Kings, the two wouldn’t work together again for more than twenty years. Although they reportedly stayed in contact during the intervening time, the animosity that resulted in a sudden halt in their collaboration proved to be – for better or worse – a source of inspiration nearly thirty years later. Thus was birthed Pain and Glory, arguably Almodóvar’s magnum opus of autofiction, self-awareness, and self-reflection.

The majority of the gleefully histrionic narrative transpires around the life of film director Salvador Mallo – Almodóvar’s fictionalised stand-in of himself perceptively played by Banderas. At the sunset of his career and living in modern day Madrid, an invitation to a retrospective screening of his ‘80s cult film Sabor prompts reflections on his childhood and past lovers. Quickly, Salvador realises he’s in a creative slump, spending his days relishing in an apathy towards a film industry and public that, surprisingly, still craves his output. From there a dual story begins to emerge, firstly of Salvador’s confrontation of his own complacency, yielding a unique tonal blend of sardonic wit and painful drama to a majority of the film’s dialogue-heavy scenes. The second story unfolds years prior in the ‘60s, where the tone is instead one of wistful nostalgia as Almodóvar depicts Salvador’s childhood episodically, portraying events such as his family’s immigration to a provincial seaside town and the young boy’s eventual sexual awakening.

Salvador’s mother Jacinta is played commandingly by Penélope Cruz. Frequently a source of both great mentorship and great agitation, she occupies a salient role in the vignettes that comprise his upbringing by providing the moralising lessons that reverberate well into his adulthood. The dichotomies of the fictional director’s life are ultimately digested as a series of creative and personal pratfalls, culminating in a sensitive thematic exploration of identity, desire, and self-discovery. As a result Almodóvar’s screenplay is often melodramatic yet simultaneous astutely aware of itself, even going so far as to have its main character openly decry autofiction as trite and over-indulgent; albeit presented in the context of Salvador being self-deprecating towards a monologue he writes about a past lover from earlier in his career.\

It isn’t hard to see why the film won the ubiquitous Banderas a Best Actor award at Cannes and Almodóvar a nomination for the prestigious Palme d’Or shortly before its domestic premiere at the Sydney Film Festival back in June. The way Almodóvar reimagines his own life deftly averts clichés and tropes, appropriating typical incidences of coincidence and exaggeration as stylistic features and points of comedic tension. Pain and Glory sees a director nearly four decades into his career hit a satisfying and self-reflexive stride, intermingling truth and fiction for an experience that is both candid and enchanting.

Session Times for Pain & Glory

This blog post was written by Patrick McKenzie, a staff member at Palace Norton St, film studies student, and aspiring freelance writer.

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