PAIN & GLORY – Review by Susan Granger

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This bittersweet, thinly veiled, semi-autobiographical drama from Pedro Almodovar revolves around a fictional Spanish filmmaker, Salvador Mello (Antonio Bandaras), who contemplates how much fire he still has in his belly while awaiting the re-release of one of his older films.

“Without filming, my life is meaningless,” he declares.

Living alone in a tastefully appointed house in Madrid, melancholic Mallo suffers from an assortment of ailments (asthma, sciatica, tinnitus), primarily headaches, stemming from fused vertebrae and coupled with depression. A multitude of memories appear through a variety of flashbacks.

There’s poverty-plagued young Salvador (Asier Flores) accompanying his mother Jacinta (Penelope Cruz) to the stream, where she and her friends sing as they do laundry in a bucolic scene near the caves of Paterna.

Growing up, Salvador becomes a church choirboy and experiences a sexual awakening watching bricklayer Eduardo (Cesar Vicente) washing his muscled body.

Much later, when she visits him, elderly Jacinta (Jacina Serrano) chides Salvador: “You haven’t been a good son.”

Prompted by an upcoming Spanish Cinematheque celebration, reclusive Salvador tracks down Alberto (Asier Etxeandia), an actor to whom he hasn’t spoken in 30 years. Debauched Alberto introduces Salvador to smoking heroin to ease his pain.

When Alberto discovers one of Salvador’s pieces from the past, he insists on performing it as a monologue in a Madrid theater before an audience that includes Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia), who had an affair with Salvador many years earlier

That leads to one of the most memorable scenes: a poignant conversation between these two late middle-aged men about their sublimated desires.

Almodovar views this episodic, visually compelling confessional as completing a trilogy that started with “Law of Desire” and continued with “Bad Education.” And Antonio Banderas delivers a magnificent performance as his alter-ego.

In Spanish with English subtitles, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Pain and Glory” is a structured, sublimely stylized 7, cinematically summarizing Pedro Almodovar’s life and work.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.