By Mark Saldana

Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)

Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar has returned with what seems to be his most personal film yet. Starring Antonio Banderas, Pain and Glory features a retired filmmaker coping with aging, loneliness, and a life away from creating art. The film is a moving and reflective portrait of a man facing mortality, and his attempts to make sense of his life and career. As usual Almodovar has created a beautiful and compelling movie that offers a revealing glimpse at his true heart and inventive mind.

Acclaimed film director Salvador Mallo (Banderas) reflects upon his life and work as he is about to be honored with a special remastering and re-release of one of his more celebrated films. As he prepares for his big night, Mallo laments at the fact that he and his lead actor Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia) haven’t spoken in ages due to a falling out while making the movie. In an attempt to have more peace-of-mind, Salvador reaches out to Crespo, and the two reconnect and reconcile. During the days spent together, Mallo further ponders his past life with his poor, working class parents (Raúl Arévalo, Penelope Cruz) and the path that lead him to where he is today.

Written and directed by Almodovar, Pain and Glory serves as a cathartic and meta piece that intimately reveals the filmmaker. Almodovar has written and directed an emotional and transcendent script that, under his intelligent direction, comes to life vividly and gorgeously. Working with cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine, the director has created a movie that is also an exquisite visual piece.

Almodovar has assembled a wonderful cast that seems to share a true love of the director and the art he has to offer. Penelope Cruz gives a lovely and moving turn as Salvador’s loving mother Jacinta. Through hardship and more pleasant times, Jacinta remains undaunted in providing the best life possible for her only child. Asier Etxeandia gives a fiery and amusing performance as the passionate, but troubled actor Diego Crespo, Mallo’s big star who had a different vision of his character than that of his director. This vast creative difference is what causes the rift between him and Salvador.

Of course, the real standout of the film is Antonio Banderas who gives a superbly nuianced performance as Salvador Mallo. Though I have enjoyed several if his performances in cinema, I don’t think that I can recall one that is as remarkable and outstanding as this one. Banderas gives what has been the best performance of his career so far. I know he will probably have some steep competition during awards season, but it would give me much pleasure if he should at least receive some nominations.

And the same sentiments go for Pedro Almodovar. Though he has made some truly amazing and remarkable movies in the past, I don’t think I have connected at the same level as I have with Pain and Glory. Should the director actually retire, he should be satisfied knowing that he has made his magnum opus.

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