Review by Sean Boelman
Pain and Glory, the newest film from Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar, is a contemplative and extremely personal semi-autobiographical drama. Although the movie does lose some of its steam in the second half, this is one of Almodóvar’s most fascinating and accomplished works in years.
The film tells the story of a director as he begins to question and reflect on decisions he made in the past. Although the narrative is loose and flowing, the unflinchingly real and honest perspective which Almodóvar brings to the story is absolutely captivating, allowing the movie to be more accessible to mainstream audiences than most of the director’s other work.
The first half of the film, in which the protagonist is coming to recognize and accept his decisions that he made in the past, is absolutely phenomenal and breezes by. The second half, in which he must cope with these issues, isn’t quite as effective, but it does serve as a mostly satisfying and necessary complement to the first half of the movie.
Much like most other semi-autobiographical films, such as All That Jazz, this movie deals with the toll that an artist’s life can take on an artist. As an audience member, it is definitely interesting to see the perspective by which Almodóvar looks back at his own life and decisions. Some of the most interesting portions of the film deal with the idea of detachment and how the protagonist feels the need to detach himself from his work because it feels too personal.
As always, Almodóvar’s characterization is absolutely wonderful. All of the characters in the movie are morally and ethically complex, committing some actions that aren’t traditionally sympathetic, but coming off as entirely human. Even though the things the protagonist does aren’t the most likable, the audience will almost pity the character nonetheless.
Antonio Banderas gives what is perhaps a career-best performance in the lead role. He brings so much humanity and vulnerability to the character that Almodóvar’s poeticism is able to come to life in ways unlike ever before. He is surrounded by an excellent supporting cast including Penélope Cruz and Asier Etxeandia, the latter of whom is not receiving nearly enough attention for his phenomenal turn.
Visually, the film has all the unique stylistic decisions typical of Almodóvar’s movies. The use of color is vibrant and the cinematography is gorgeously composed to the extent that any frame from the film could be seen as a work of art on its own. From the script to the visuals, this movie is undeniably and unmistakably Almodóvar’s, and it is all the better for it.
Decidedly personal, Pain and Glory is an excellent exploration of art and the creative process. Thanks to a poetic script, excellent performances, and brilliant direction from auteur Pedro Almodóvar, this is a truly unforgettable film.
Pain and Glory is now in theaters.