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Pain and Glory

Pedro Almodovar’s 21st full length feature film is very personal, a drama reflecting events in the Spanish director’s career as a former actor, screenwriter, producer, and now renowned filmaker. Revelations of tenderness, lump-in-the-throat emotions, and even smiles, should stir similar reactions in viewers. The narrative contrasts the vigor of a director’s work as well as the pain of the man creating it.

Almodovar’s plot doppelganger Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas), has self-documented his life through the films he has made, which are radical, colorful and vivid. But now he’s feeling the universal blur of old age subverting his past straight ahead creative accomplishments. Old demons return as a result of the restoration and re-release of one of his famous earlier films. At the same time Mallo’s memories keep pulling him back to his childhood and the relationship with his mother (Penelope Cruz), who was a major influence in his youth.

Mallo is afflicted with multiple ailments, the worst of which is the inability to continue filming. His physical condition, along with the mixture of medications, and occasional flirtations with heroin, means that Mallo spends most of his day incapacitated facing the reality that if he can’t film again, life is meaningless. This negativity rekindles thoughts of childhood poverty, his mother struggling and improvising to improve the family’s meager resources. He also felt first love in his young years, a love that ended with a broken heart.

Mallo’s youthful attemps at writing led to a connection with cinema in the town (films projected on a wall in the open air) boosting his sagging emotions with a jolt of optimism. In thinking back these memories are a springboard to redemption. “Pain and Glory” talks about creation, about the difficulty of separating it from one’s own life and about the passions that give it meaning and hope.

Antonio Banderas won a Best Actor award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and is being lauded by aisle sitters for his vivid portrayal of a character in emotional pain. Its clear that the longtime collaboration between the actor and writer/director (since the beginning of both their careers) has been beneficial in the telling of Almodovar’s autobiographical saga. Penelope Cruz, who also has screen history with Almodovar, adds a very illuminating performance in a supporting role.

In expressing himself through his alter ego, the Spanish director reveals an intensity of inner pain, which becomes therapeutic. The viewer feels compassion for his torment while enjoying a work of cinematic art.

Other than the 10 day Hamilton Art Gallery of Hamilton annual film festival, (“Pain and Glory” was the premiere attraction last month), art films have had infrequent screenings until the restoration of the Westdale and Playhouse theatres this year. Keep an eye on their schedules, serious cinema fans now feast on an eye pleasing smorgasbord of international fare which includes the thought provoking “Pain and Glory”.

Alex Reynolds

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