“Pain & Glory” ticks all the boxes to win the Palme d’Or. The Cannes Festival will take place this coming May 14-25 and have yet to announce the programme for its 72nd edition and in time-honoured tradition, won’t do so until mid-April. But it would be very strange if “Pain & Glory”, Pedro Almodóvar’s masterful self-portrait which opens in cinemas here in Spain on March 22, does not end up competing in Cannes. As everyone knows, the Manchego is the “chou-chou” of Spanish cinema in France. Even more so than here at home, where at least two of his films “Julieta” and “Bad Education” were subject to something akin to a boycott due to causes beyond his control, and unleashed systematic rejection form the more reactionary critics. In France, on the contrary, he is worshiped. An almost unanimous adoration, shared by critics, public, and the festival of festivals alike, where he has already appeared on five occasions winning several awards including Best Director for “All About My Mother” (1999) and Best Screenplay for “Volver” (2006). Of course, the Palme d’Or has thus far eluded him and “Pain & Glory”, as I already mentioned, ticks those boxes required to achieve glory in a relatively painless manner. It remains to be seen the quality of the contenders, which will be high, given that we’re expecting the likes of Tarantino, Gray and Jarmusch to show up. But even in the case of an excellent selection, it is very likely that we will continue to bet on “Pain & Glory”.
There’s talk on the wind that “Pain & Glory” could well be Almodóvar’s best film yet, an idea that sparks severe migraine just thinking about it. What is certain is that the film is being received as the pinnacle of a glittering filmography, as a testament in the truest sense of the word as defined in the Spanish RAE dictionary of: “a work in which an author, in the latter period of their activity, leaves an expression of their fundamental points of view, or the principal features of their art, in a way that they, or posterity, consider definitive”. At 69, Almodóvar is in full artistic form, the film amply demonstrates this, and it’s clear that he still has plenty to do and say, but “Pain & Glory” is a crucial compendium of the best he has given us so far, at least in his later stage, and it is anticipated that his next project – a series he is rumoured to be preparing for Netflix – will be a fresh new start. For now, we have “Pain & Glory” which, for cinemagoers, is above all the latter. The glory of glories. As you may already have heard, Antonio Banderas, in his best work to date, offers an overwhelming fictional replica of Almodóvar himself, a filmmaker named Salvador Mallo who, like Fellini in “8½“, is going through a phase of creative block, in this case due to a litany of physical ailments summed up in an extraordinary animation by Gatti, who in his all-inclusive endeavour, capriciously brings to mind the «Victor’s journeys» moment from Roger Avary’s interesting adaptation of «The Rules of Attraction” by Easton Ellis. Perhaps the reason literary references come to mind is because “Pain & Glory” is full of literary quotes, ranging from Jordi Costa, and his “How to End the Counterculture“, to the absolute Maestro of intertextuality, Enrique Vila-Matas.
Without revealing too much of all the wonderful surprises “Pain & Glory” holds, I will say that it opens with Banderas / Mallo / Almodóvar submerged in the amniotic fluid of memory, which rhymes with the river of his childhood, where an almost biblical scene involving women washing clothes, with Rosalía’s angelic chanteuse, and Penélope Cruz, as a mother like no other, in a fresh reincarnation of the role she always embroiders for Almodóvar. The first part of the film works beautifully in every aspect, thanks to an extraordinary Asier Etxeandía, who following a tribute from the Spanish Film Society, embodies the actor with whom the director is reunited after years of estrangement. Heroin also plays a part in the film and with scathing irony, the deadly drug, a late discovery for the fictional filmmaker, has a Proustian effect on his mind, to which childhood memories of vocational and sexual awakenings begin to emerge. The second part slows down a little, loses some of that fluid melancholy to concentrate on two new themes, the old lover (Leonardo Sbaraglia) and his mother, already in her final death throes and now embodied by a Julieta Serrano who evokes the sadly-missed Chus Lampreave. The film metamorphoses and changes pace but maintains its balance throughout. It continues to flow, like the river and like the pee. With his excellent direction of actors, a seamless script and a wonderful mise-en-scène, which never wanes, “Pain & Glory” is undoubtedly the film of a lifetime, of an entire lifetime, and of a whole career. It deserves the Palme d’Or at a minimum. And we’re sure that both the French and González Iñárritu, announced president of the jury of this edition, will know how to see it, and will not miss out on the occasion. Good luck.