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Movie Review: 'Pain And Glory'

Oct 6, 2019
Originally published on October 6, 2019 3:05 pm
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When a filmmaker makes a movie about a filmmaker, it's tempting to think that what ends up on the screen will be self-referential. In the new movie "Pain And Glory," Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar is encouraging that. Critic Bob Mondello says the writer-director pushes parallels about as far as he can.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Salvador lives for film. Without filmmaking, he says at one point, my life is meaningless. But when we first see him, played by Antonio Banderas, he's not directing a movie. He's floating in a swimming pool to relieve back pain. He can't work. And the break in his routine has him thinking back on a life that's had a lot of breakage - relationships mostly, including one that's about to prove awkward. Salvador has been asked to speak at a retrospective where his first smash hit, made decades ago, will have a Q&A afterwards, and he has to talk its leading man into joining him.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PAIN AND GLORY")

ANTONIO BANDERAS: (As Salvador Mallo, speaking Spanish).

MONDELLO: The leading man looks startled.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PAIN AND GLORY")

ASIER ETXEANDRIA: (As Alberto Crespo, speaking Spanish).

MONDELLO: So they don't know we haven't spoken since then. Now, if you know that Antonio Banderas, who's playing the director here, had a decades-long falling out with this film's director, Pedro Almodovar, after their early hits together, that is an interesting plot point. And the film takes it much further. The set for Salvador's home is filled with furniture and paintings from Almodovar's home. Banderas is wearing Almodovar's shoes at one point. And the plot has parallels to moments in the director's life - his being sent against his will, for instance, to a seminary school.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PAIN AND GLORY")

ASIER FLORES: (As Salvador Mallo, speaking Spanish).

PENELOPE CRUZ: (As Jacinta Mallo, speaking Spanish).

FLORES: (As Salvador Mallo, speaking Spanish).

MONDELLO: Don't seminaries train you to be a priest?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PAIN AND GLORY")

FLORES: (As Salvador Mallo, speaking Spanish).

MONDELLO: I don't want to be a priest.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PAIN AND GLORY")

CRUZ: (As Jacinta Mello, speaking Spanish).

MONDELLO: And it links those real-life parallels to Almodovar's films. The mom in that scene is Penelope Cruz, who played a mom based on Almodovar's real mom in the movie "Volver." And for the older version of that character, the director turned to Julieta Serrano, who he directed as Banderas' mom in "Woman On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown." So when she says...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PAIN AND GLORY")

JULIETA SERRANO: (As Jacinta Mallo, speaking Spanish).

MONDELLO: You were not a good son to me...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PAIN AND GLORY")

BANDERAS: (As Salvador Mallo) No?

SERRANO: (As Jacinta Mallo) No.

MONDELLO: ...It resonates. None of these parallels would matter much if "Pain And Glory" weren't also a gorgeous piece of filmmaking. The colors alone will inspire doctoral dissertations. Salvador's adolescent memories are ravishing - of, say, a handsome but illiterate laborer he taught to read, or of his mother and women from their village singing as they drape wet laundry over wild grasses by the riverside.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PAIN AND GLORY")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing in Spanish).

MONDELLO: And they helped make his later interactions with his aging mother at the end of her life all the more affecting. Partly that's because Antonio Banderas, who when acting in English tends to be brash and macho, gets to be subtler here as a man who's fragile, vulnerable, especially with a partner he'd lost touch with.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PAIN AND GLORY")

BANDERAS: (As Salvador Mallo, speaking Spanish).

MONDELLO: "Pain And Glory" is all about reconciliations - with family, with lovers, with oneself - and about art and passion and the origins of desire. All of which is to say, "Pain And Glory" is a film by Pedro Almodovar, arguably his most affecting, accomplished and personal work in years, a film about a director who worries that he's past his prime made by a director very much in his prime.

I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.