PAIN AND GLORY (2019, Pedro Almodóvar)
When director Salvador (played by the consistently great Antonio Banderas, shifting out of his late-period DTV action movies to deliver yet another hard-working performance of intelligence and tenderness) tells a former actress of his that a particular movie plays better now than it did 30 years ago, she tells him “It’s your eyes that have changed. The film is the same.” Almodóvar just turned 70 years old and is finally working like a filmmaker polishing his last chapter: patient, ruminative, and reflective. In that scene he’s challenging the notion that movies can “age well” or feel dated. His acknowledgement that works of art are static, and their impact can only be felt in relation to the relative association with its audience — and their particular life circumstances — is key to understanding the connection between a filmmaker’s relationship to cinema, and his relationship to himself.
As a narrative, it’s kind of all over the map. It takes detours in its wandering focus — whether on a reunion with a former actor, a dalliance with heroin addiction, flashbacks to a formative youth and a complicated mother, chronic health problems, and most notably the return of a former lover — but uses these loose strands to weave a life that isn’t easily summed up or turned into a simplistic message. Instead it lends memories a dreamlike quality, finds ways to turn experience into quasi-fiction (“the neighbors don’t like you talking about them”), and comes to terms with the fact that we can’t return to the past but we can embrace it with the wisdom that can only come from the present. This is a colorful, heartfelt piece of work directed with classical strength and pulsating with sloppy, endearing brush strokes.