Pedro Almodóvar’s 21st feature of his hugely distinguished career, Pain & Glory is undoubtedly up there with Talk To Her, Volver and All About My Mother as the best of his career. A masterful slice of auto-fiction, this elegantly-made drama of the soul holds a mirror up to his own life and work without, somehow, ever feeling indulgent or self-absorbed.
The film reunites him with Antonio Banderas, his frequent collaborator from his early period on films like Law of Desire and Matador. They last worked together on 2011’s Hitchcock-like thriller The Skin I Live In, but this plays much closer to home. Banderas, who won Best Actor in Cannes for his work, is Salvador Mallo, an acclaimed film director from Madrid whose physical ailments have induced a creative slump.
When a retrospective of one of his earlier films is proposed, he makes contact with Alberto (Aiser Etxeandia), its star, to ask if he will join him at the screening. A wildcard, Alberto is a heroin user and introduces Salvador to the drug, which he gleefully tries, if only to find relief from his constant back pains. In one of the film’s most amusing scenes, the two men scrap their attendance of the screening, instead answering audience questions via telephone as they indulge their narcotic habits further.
Yet this is just the start, as Salvador begins to reflect on his past – notably his boyhood, when his proud mother (Penélope Cruz) is forced to move to a new cave-like dwelling in the village of Jacinta. Sexual awakenings and formative relationships are also mused upon, as the past and present collide in an intoxicating fashion, all brilliantly served up by Almodóvar, who may turn 70 next month but is clearly not suffering from creative paralysis like his character.
Deftly mixing humour and pathos, reflecting on both art and the artist, you might say it’s a film about creation, whether it’s on the canvas or elsewhere. After so many Hollywood confections, Banderas looks hungry here, feasting on something so substantial. He’s never been better, in a film that gets more profound with every passing minute. Don’t miss this splendid showcase.
Pain & Glory opens on 23 August. For more details, visit Pathe.
1. Still from Pain & Glory.