Pain and Glory

Pain and Glory ★★★★★

Scavenger Hunt #53; Watch a film where someone does heroin.

2019 ranked

I first heard about this film at the final cut showing of Apocalypse Now, and didn't really think too much of the film. No one I knew wanted to see it, so I went to a very empty screening at the Curzon in the middle of Sheffield and really didn't expect anything too great. What I found instead was my new favourite film of the year.

Pain and Glory focuses on film director Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) as he navigates his life in constant pain, both mental and physical. As his depression reaches its zenith he reconnects with people and memories from his past, from growing up in the 1960s to finding love and filmmaking in the 80s.

This film is so powerful, in part to how personal it all feels. It feels like reading a diary or having a window into the mind and soul of director Pedro Almodóvar. It's no secret that this film is semi-autobiographical and pulls from elements of real life, and that really shows, from the naturalistic dialogue to the gentle pacing. Any scene where two characters are together having a conversation is absolutely perfect, which is really most of the film (I can't think of many scenes where there are more than 2 characters present) and this gives the film a very intimate feeling.

The acting is absolutely perfect, particularly from Banderas in the lead role. Having grown up on Zorro, Spy Kids and of course Shrek 2 I never expected this kind of depth and range from him. His micro expressions are absolutely incredible, particularly in the scene where he reunites with a lover from his past. The pain and sadness mixed with the joy are absolutely breathtaking and I'd be very surprised if he doesn't receive at least a nomination for best actor. Penélope Cruz is also fantastic in a smaller role as Salvador's mother in the past.

Other elements that really worked for me were the cinematography, set design and the soundtrack. There was a shot in the last half hour in a hospital waiting room, with the walls plastered with artificial trees and sunlight that was absolutely gorgeous. The set design on the cave house in the past and Salvador's apartment in the present are a wonderful juxtaposition, and the soundtrack is so powerful it was right to have won the soundtrack award at Cannes.

I love films about the making of films, internal conflicts, lost love and reflection to childhood and exploring existential themes. This film does all of these so well, in a tightly made, beautifully acted, gorgeously directed masterpiece. I will be sure to check out other Almodóvar films soon. I can't recommend enough really.

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