Pain and Glory (3 stars)

Pain and Glory

Cannes 2019: A filmmaker looks back over his life in the latest from Pedro Almodóvar

A reclusive film director reflects on the moments that made him in the latest from movie maestro Pedro Almodóvar. Although unmistakable in its autobiographic elements and visual vibrancy, Pain and Glory (Dolor y gloria) finds the flamboyant filmmaker in subdued, melancholic form, as his alter-ego plunders his past to reinvigorate his present.

When his 32-year-old movie Sabor is treated to a restoration in a nod to its now-classic status, retired director Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) returns to the limelight. Suffering from various maladies and reluctant to re-enter the filmmaking fray, it becomes all about his mother as his daydreams take him back to her. We meet Penélope Cruz's indominable matriarch Jacinta, the star of Salvador's fond and fraught childhood memories. Meanwhile, in the present day, he's reunited with his actor nemesis Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia), and ex Alberto (Asier Etxeandia).

Although it threatens to unleash quintessential Almodóvar qualities like farce, melodrama and passion (not least in Salvador's drug and irritation fuelled interactions with Federico), Pain and Glory tends to stop short, while the suspenseful score suggests Hitchcockian intrigue – something the director has flirted with in the past – that the narrative fails to deliver. The reunions and fateful discoveries are beautifully played, and there are hints of poignancy and authenticity, but such scenes never flower into raw, palpable emotion – its protagonist's despondency dictating the film's slightly standoffish tone. If Pain and Glory shows us a filmmaker suffering mental and creative crises, we're not allowed to feel the agony of that.

Nevertheless, Almodóvar's sense of cinema remains undiminished. Working with regular DoP José Luis Alcaine, they flood the screen with colour in the form of clashing prints, courageous fashion choices and an enviable, art-filled interior that acts as Salvador's sanctuary. And, while hardly the director's most emotionally honest work, it's a story that speaks compellingly, if a touch reticently, about the patchwork nature of our lives.

Screening as part of the Cannes Film Festival 2019. General release from Fri 23 Aug.

Pain and Glory

  • 3 stars
  • 2019
  • Spain
  • 1h 53min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Pedro Almodovar
  • Cast: Antonio Banderas, Penelope Cruz, Leonardo Sbaraglia

Retired director Salvador (Banderas) reflects on his life while one of his older movies is being restored. This is Almodóvar on subdued, melancholic form, and while the film’s standoffish tone prevents us from feeling fully involved, the director’s sense of cinema remains undiminished.