Monday, October 7, 2019

Pain and Glory

Pedro Almodovar’s Pain and Glory is about a director, Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas), who has hit a wall, a filmic form of writer’s block in which he can no longer do the thing for which he lives. “Without filming, my life is meaningless,” he says. Naturally Pain and Glory recalls Fellini’s autobiographical . The difference is the lack of sweep. For a director like Almodovar whose work is characterized by great flights of invention like the Gulliveresque scene in Talk to Her where a character navigates his way into a massive vagina, Pain and Glory is curiously straight forward, tame and even disappointing at times. In the movie the director attempts to patch up the 30 year estrangement with Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia), the star of his first film, Sabor. Alberto’s a heroin addict. In an attempt to either bond or dull his feelings of guilt towards a leading man he once maligned, Salvador joins in and quickly becomes addicted--a narrative element that unfortunately leads to contrivance, as the drug binges become occasions for dreamlike recollections of the past. Addiction is also the subject of a monologue in which Alberto will play Marcello, a stand in for Salvador’s great love Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia).The piece deals with another painful breakup, but emotional and physical pain overlap. Salvador can’t swallow due dysphagia or Forestier’s syndrome, a calcification of the thoracic spine. He suffers from headaches, back pain, insomnia, anxiety, asthma and tinnitus and the beginning of the movie furnishes a body scan which might have been an FMRI recording his brain too. The line between physical and psychic struggles is constantly blurred. It’s never clear whether Salvador's suffering from the pain of pain or the pain of life and that’s one of the problems with any of the palliatives to which he quickly becomes dependent. In one memorable scene the youthful Salvador comes down with a high fever after experiencing his first homoerotic longings. The fact that both the director and his childhood mother, Jacinta (Penelope Cruz) are played by iconic Almodovar actors adds another level to the film’s psychohistory. However, what's admirable but also noticeably missing is a unifying device or key. A conversation with the adult incarnation of his mother (Julietta Serrano) in which he explains "I've failed you by being simply as I am," unfortunately, feels like a non sequitur. Almodovar employs a striking red backdrop in the dramatic Addiction monologue. And the unearthing of a childhood portrait threatens to become his alter ego's Rosebud. However, these ploys miss their mark, failing to create the kind of indelible impression that was undoubtedly intended. Pain and Glory--even the hyperbolic sounding title seems out of sync for a director whose palette is so suffused with irony.

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