We don’t deserve Pedro Almodovar; thank God he disagrees.
His best film in several years and topping even his previous collaboration with Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory, a fitting title for this study of cinephilia, in line with fair expectations has triumphed.
Not the only feature to screen at this year’s Sydney Film Festival unpacking the boundaries and extremes of art as biography, Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas), much loved filmmaker of many decades, here reflects on his creative choices, past and ponders whether he will make another film.
Patently reflective of Almodovar, what may appear self-indulgent for two advents negates frustration that may typically arise from statedly insular projects, here managed by a redoubtable creative force.
First, and simply, the quality of the craft. From the beautifully staged titles to the dreamlike recalls to Mallo’s (read; Almodovar’s) childhood featuring Penelope Cruz, excellent as ever, Pain and Glory is beautiful to behold. An opening and much-publicised shot of Banderas, himself earning the Performer nod he got at Cannes with a turn palpably more lived-in and emotionally painstaking than most, is both serene and emphatic in it’s simplicity as the isolated Mallo contends himself with welcome silence and contemplation several feet underwater.
A later sequence drenched with longing and burgeoning, classical romanticism rarely captured outside the neorealism of the fifties (and sixties), featuring a bath, will stay in the mind long after.
Comparisons will be inevitable to Fellini’s 8 ½, though what the Italian master conveyed through abject symbolism Almodovar conversely imparts through a trademark lucidity; the entire story imbued with straightforward narratives and happenings which film-tragics and cinemagoers, casual and most dedicated alike, will ever be able to relate.
And that is this other most important factor rendering Pain and Glory as a welcome prospect unto any and all simply by it being simple; telling a universal story about growing old, doubt and regret that too finds life in the most emphatic particulars of this story which are blessedly not stratified by demographic nor experience.
Finally, that oh so pleasant surprise. Turns in a story are often done to shock the audience and capture them off guard, rather than necessarily revealing something about one character or another. That which does occur in Pain and Glory’s later stages is an elegant example for the ages of how that which upends can and should abundantly inform and propel a story’s very ethos. For intent on realising a self-actualising, biographic tale, and as cinema is and will always be a simulacrum, as well known to Almodovar, we are fairly treated to a representation of this life; unable to reasonably fathom it’s full extent or actuality in any circumstance.
That which we do glean of this moving, relatable story, told in more than one way through Almodovar’s lens, will never be (nor will any film) as assured an account as a story could be but for our actually being there. Left to only ponder and imagine the dimensions of this tale unseen and that which inspired it, we have nonetheless been treated to a stunning version and for that we are content.