Writer-director Pedro Almodóvar’s new film “Pain and Glory,” included in the 57th New York Film Festival, is awash in memories, feelings, compelling characters and his customary expertise in communicating depth with the aid of extraordinary visuals. What’s more there is a strong, intricate performance by Antonio Banderas, long associated with Almodóvar’s films, as a director whom many might take to have autobiographical inferences to Almodóvar himself.
The story involves Salvador Mallo (Banderas), in his sixties, with a slew of medical issues and worry about lack of inspiration, at a time when a film that he made 30 years ago is being shown in a revival. There are unpleasant memories associated with making that film because he feels his leading actor messed up what he aimed to do. However, after harsh words in a new encounter, Salvador wants to patch up the bad feelings and surprises the actor, Alberto (Asier Etxeandia) in his home. Alberto has a liking for cocaine and wants Salvador to join him.
Important and intriguing parts of the film are flashbacks into Salvador’s childhood when he was nine years old (played by Asie Flores) and being raised in poverty by his mother Jacinta, given an earthy performance by Penélope Cruz. Young Salvador undertakes to teach reading and writing to a handyman, Eduardo (César Vicente), who is very muscular. When Salavador gets a view of Eduardo’s physique, he begins to have feelings he doesn’t yet understand. Later in the film there will be a fresh and poignant connection that occurs.
There are also later scenes demonstrating Salvador’s close feelings for his mother (the elderly mom portrayed by Julieta Serrano). She is ill and envisioning impending death. The acting is excellent, but in terms of looks, it is difficult to accept her as an aged version of Cruz.
“Pain and Glory” is packed with so much detail and has a broad scope that keeps one enthralled. If I had to pick one scene that stands out above everything else, it is the encounter between Salvador and Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia), a man from the past, and it turns out both Salvador and Federico have clung to happy memories and old sexual feelings that are now rekindled in a tender emotional encounter that sums up so much of what “Pain and Glory is about. A Sony Pictures Classics release. Reviewed October 4, 2019.