“In the cinema of my childhood, it always smells of piss and jasmine in the summer breeze,” reminisces stalled filmmaker Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) in Pedro Almodóvar’s twenty-first feature, “Pain and Glory” (“Dolor y Gloria”).
The first film since 2016’s “Julieta” for the seventy-year-old writer-director, the memory-creasing narrative draws from Almodóvar’s own life, but as Salvador’s mother cautions him, “I don’t like autofiction.” Banderas quiffs his hair upward in the longtime fashion of Almodóvar, wearing some of the filmmaker’s own wardrobe; much of the artwork and furnishings in the director’s luxe cavern, an apartment of everyday opulence, are Almodóvar’s own. (The filmmaker’s art collection features works by Spanish painters Guillermo Pérez Villalta and Sigfrido Martín Begué.) A chamber affair, “Pain and Glory” still bursts with Deco and pop, courtesy of Almodóvar’s customary production designer, Antxón Gómez. Regular collaborators cinematographer José Luis Alcaine and composer Alberto Iglesias enhance the ache of it all.
Almodóvar pleads allegory, and the question the film asks, and the filmmaker-within-the-film unwittingly asks, is: how does one maintain or rediscover not only desire, but also first desire? The spark. The fire. The riveting earliest impulses and insights. Languishing within painkillers and wracked with back pain, lolling and morbidly inattentive, Salvador retreats briefly into heroin. Figures from his past lace into his life in sweet melodramatic coincidence even as his drifting memories seek somewhere to anchor. The drily comic dialogue tends to the gnomic: “Tell me if you see anything strange”; “Everything here is strange.” When Salvador renews ties with a past collaborator, who discovers a prose piece he has written, a stage setting is suggested, but Salvador won’t sign it: “It’s a confessional text, I don’t want to be identified.” The layers persist and insist and lap gently toward shore: cinematic fiction will transform all. Banderas is soulful perfection. With Penelope Cruz, Asier Etxeandía, Leonardo Sbaraglia. 113m. (Ray Pride)
“Pain and Glory” is at Landmark Century.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.