Pain and Glory (2019): TIFF Film Review
This review was filed from the Toronto International Film Festival.
In his twenty-third feature film to hit the screen, one thing is more than obvious: veteran director Pedro Almadovar is not quitting any time soon. And if his future films have the same result as Pain And Glory, starring Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz (among others), it may very well be a good thing that the acclaimed director is sticking to making new stories. Because from the very moment the film starts rolling, one thing is aware: the journey we are about to witness, the very journey that Almadovar created, is going to be entirely self-reflective. Because of this, the film feels very defined in itself, and aware of its very existence, as it is obvious that Salvador Mallo, our protagonist, is a mirrored reflection of the acclaimed Spanish film director. And that's just one of the many things that propel the film to stand out as one of the best films of the year, and one that will influence cinema in the years to come.
The film tells the story of Salvador Mallo, a veteran film director who is lost, in health standards, in life standards, and most importantly of all to the film, in creativity standards. While dealing with a multitude of events, including a newfound addiction to heroin, the trauma of childhood memories, and a reunion with an acclaimed actor that ruined his career 30 years earlier; we are instantly propelled into the calm yet chaotic life that Salvador lives, hating himself for not creating any new stories while not being able to think of new stories. Instead, he keeps drafts on his computer, of experiences that are locked up to characters in the film, but relatively open to the audience - who gets a front row seat into the early life and late life of Mallo.
One of the best parts of Pain and Glory is the simple fact that there is not much too it. It's not trying to be more than it is, with a complicated story line and loads of forced drama or trauma. Almadovar recognizes that his twenty-third film is a simple story, with clear motivations and character arcs along the way. And while the film is so simple in its basic form, the complexity also shines through with the amount of heavy themes that bombard the viewer during the entire film, but more specifically, the last collection of scenes. Almadovar's genius in telling Mallo's story is that the retired film director is the center of his own universe, as people experience his company, learn from him, and age all around him while the audience only sees two versions of Salvador - young and old. If that isn't film-making at its finest, I don't know what is
In the technical aspects of the film, every role is played to perfection, with a spectacular lead performance by Antonio Banderas, who really embodies the constant sorrow and hope that Mallo feels, and a great supporting role from Penelope Cruz as Salvador's mother, although in complete honesty, I would have like to see more of her character in the film, because by only showing a few scenes with her experiences with Salvador, it almost feels as if the development of her character is too rushed. Regardless, the film is shot to perfection, and has some hilarious moments, both comically and painfully, as we watch Salvador's experiences unfold before us. In total, Pain and Glory is an unique character study that brims with self reflexiveness and tells a story that deserves to be told.