“Pain and Glory” (M) *****
SINCE “Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” (1988), Pedro Almodovar’s name has been a byword for films frankly telling about aspects of the human condition that most people consider to be nobody else’s business but their own.
This probably autobiographical film is possibly the pinnacle to date of his 25 features. It’s beautiful to the eye, challenging to the intellect, emotionally confronting. Its relaxed style contrasts with its uncompromising theme, of a filmmaker still disturbed by memories of the film he made three decades earlier that destroyed a relationship with its star.
In childhood, Salvador (Asier Flores) does not wish to get the seminary education that his pious mother (Penelope Cruz) hopes will lead him to priesthood. Poor almost beyond belief, they have found living space in a cave to which illiterate Eduardo (Cesar Vicente) will later come to refurbish in return for little Salva’s teaching him to read.
Four decades later, filmmaker Salva is blighted by significant health issues, a fondness for heroin and the need to renew a professional acquaintance with Alberto (Asier Etxeandia). In Salva’s breakthrough film two decades earlier Alberto’s performance did not please Salva. Now, the Cinematheque has invited both men, who had been lovers then, to a retrospective screening of that film.
The audience at which Almadovar is aiming “Pain and Glory” is certainly not the populist mob seeking fantasy action. The film’s structure moves deftly to and fro between Salva’s childhood and maturity. Once the screenplay lays down the story’s basic parameters, it becomes almost a repertory piece, as Salva confronts his past, his current life, the little-known condition called Forestier’s Syndrome that is adding another element to an already long list of health problems.
Antonio Banderas’s performance playing the adult Salva is unlike any I can remember from him, more subtle and altogether better.
At Dendy and Palace Electric