Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Almodovar's latest - touching yet incomplete

Screened at the 15th edition of the Windsor International Film Festival

Pedro Almodovar’s latest, Pain and Glory, is a thinly veiled autobiographical look at the film director

as he begins to enter old age. Almodovar is now 70 and of course Spain’s best known and wildly flamboyant director of the past 30 years. But anyone expecting the bombast and subtlety and the clashing complexity of characters and storylines in films ranging from Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988), Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990) and Volver (2006), won’t get it in this film. For this is a quiet - very quiet - movie. Here, the director, after a long career, is at rest. He cannot make films anymore. That’s because he ails tremendously, suffering from numerous symptoms from tinnitus to extreme headaches and most of all back pain. “Without filming, my life is meaningless,” the director, Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas – and if you haven’t seen him in awhile, has he aged!), laments. So, Mallo spends his days in his fashionable and art-strewn house, a prisoner of illness. One day his assistant Mercedes (Nora Navas) informs that the Madrid cinematheque is hosting a tribute to one of his films, Sabor. He’s asked to be there for a Q & A. He visits the film’s star, Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia) with whom he had a falling out over his dissatisfaction with Crespo’s performance in this very film. They try to reconcile and Mallo presents Crespo with a script for a play, Addiction. Crespo presents it on stage and a long-ago lover, Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia), by coincidence, sees it and shows up on Mallo’s doorstep. It’s a heartwarming scene redolent of one-time glorious affection. Generally, in the film, the director, looking back on his life, conjures memories of his past, many of which concern his childhood and mother (a reprise of sorts to his films All About My Mother (1999) and Bad Education (2004)). There’s one about his early homosexual awakening, spying a family handyman (César Vicente) bathing. In the film’s story these snippets of time all add up to powerful memories. What was hard to reconcile, however, were the plot’s detours into the director’s late flirtation with heroin, courtesy of Crespo, and zany moments such as his refusal to attend Sabor’s Q & A - dialing it in, literally, and then the audience amusingly overhearing a fight between Mallo and Crespo. So, yes, Pain and Glory is a well-acted, warmly made with comic touches, look back at one individual’s life. But the film feels incomplete. Is this the character’s entire summing up? Is one film the only highpoint of the director’s esteemed career? (My god, Almodovar has had almost 20!) Is this really the total of a great man’s “glory?”

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