Cannes 2019: Antonio Banderas starrer Pain and Glory is all about Pedro Almodovar
Pedro Almodovar’s hotly anticipated Pain and Glory, was a wee bit disappointing. Unlike his earlier works like Volver, All About My Mother, Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down, his latest outing looked insipid. The movie had the colours all right, bright and loud, but never garish or vulgar. What seemed missing was the Almodovar energy that lighted up his cinema and took us all on a lovely ride through the plot, which was nearly always personal.
However, we have to understand that Pain and Glory came from a man who was ageing and had almost thought that he would not be able to work anymore. So, why not we give him a concession? With this mood prevailing here at Cannes, backed a top rating from critics, 2019 may well be the year when Almodovar cliches the top prize. The Spanish master has never won the Palm dÓr, but Pain and Glory could move the jury, headed by Mexican helmer Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.
This is, of course, not to say that Pain and Glory is his best work. As one writer aptly said: “It lacks both the mad energy of his early countercultural work and the ravishing melodramatic pleasures of the critical darlings from his prestige period (including All About My Mother, which was heavily favoured to win, but didn’t, in 1999).”
My favourite has always been Volver — about death and remorse with a brilliant opening shot showing dozens of young widows cleaning the graves of their husbands on a wind-swept morning. There is also a famous freezer scene with a dead body dumped in, one that has been recently copied in a Tamil movie!
Pain and Glory is far less dramatic than Volver or Almodovar’s other outings. It is a story of an ageing master, painfully reminiscing on his days of glory. And Almodovar uses his favourite actor, Antonio Banderas, to play this part; he has been the director’s regular, much like Soumitra Chatterjee was to Satyajit Ray. Both Banderas and Chatterjee could be seen as their helmers’ alter-egos.
Banderas is a great performer, and he has been with Almodovar since the start. In fact, both began their life in cinema at the same time. And Banderas, like Almodovar, has been dashing and debonair. Not though in Pain and Glory, where the actor sheds this image. He does not have his usual swagger or his devil-may-care attitude. These are set aside to portray a neurotic director bogged down by failures and physical ailments - and living with the memory of his celebrated days.
Said to be his most personal and autobiographical work, Pain and Glory has some of the auteur’s trademarks - bold colours, passionate embraces and references to his favourites from Fellini to Elizabeth Tailor all wrapped up in Alberto Iglesias’ haunting score. With Penelope Cruz (another Pedro constant) playing the director’s mother in his younger days, and Banderas as the helmer himself, the film runs through the pain and glory of the man with the megaphone. Reminded me about Guru Dutt’s Kaagaz Ke Phool, where the master director walks down memory lane wistfully thinking about his grand times.
In Pain and Glory, Banderas is Salvador Mallo, a cinema director who has not made anything for years and is now bogged down by aches and a tendency to choke on food. He is depressed, and it then that he meets an old friend, Alberto, who helps the master reconnect with a former star. The two had quarrelled and parted ways. Mallo finds an old script and asks the star to perform on stage. And the production brings back Mallo’s old pals, and he finds a new energy and meaning to live.
Despite a deeply poignant plot, there was something lacking in Pain and Glory. It did not quite connect with me emotionally. And I was disappointed - all the more, because it was an Almodovar work, the man who had given a fantastically new meaning to Spanish cinema, nay world cinema.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran has been covering Cannes close to three decades.)
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