Pain and Glory
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY
So. Pedro Almodovar. Can’t say I’ve ever been a huge fan. I don’t hate his movies, but I’ve never been particularly moved to rush right out to the local art house theater every time one of them comes out, either. During my video store days I watched Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and Tie Me Up Tie Me Down and was entertained by them. Maybe he was too European for me to grok—or maybe I needed more life experience. I dunno. I’d rather stick with Woody Allen.
As I recall, Vija and Andrea saw Pain and Glory when it first came out last fall. I had passed without even learning what the new film was about. I think they liked it. Then it got Oscar nominated twice, including Antonio Banderas for Best Actor, and it was re-released—and Virginia and Ann wanted to see it. Well, at least this time I had a little more incentive.
Banderas is a hypochondriac filmmaker in the late stages of his life. Unexpected reunions with people from his past alternate with memories of his childhood, involving his mother and other individuals. Less a plot than a loose connection of character vignettes, it works mostly because of Banderas. I’ll come back to him in a minute.
I can’t say for certain what distinguishes Almodovar as a filmmaker, but as I watched Glory I wondered how much of this story is autobiographical: Banderas’ character is internationally known, has never been to Hollywood, and has similar hair to Almodovar. The director says there’s only a passing resemblance, and I have no reason to doubt him; still, I was drawn to Salvador’s story as much as the way it was told: gently, compassionately, unhurriedly.
The layers of his life—his childhood; his relationship with his mother; his career and his estrangement from his star; his business partner; his former lover—are peeled back a little at a time and presented, warts and all. Aside from one early CGI-animated sequence describing Salvador’s numerous ailments, there’s nothing flashy here...
...just Banderas embodying a complicated person with vulnerability, dignity and pain. When he crossed over into Hollywood, they tried making him an action hero, and I dug him in movies like Desperado and The Mask of Zorro, but Glory reminded me of his more dramatic turns in films like Philadelphia and Evita. I think drama is a better fit for him. Glory is his seventh film with Almodovar, and after all these years, it would seem he handles Banderas better than anyone else.
A few words about Penelope Cruz, who plays Banderas’ mom in flashbacks: like Banderas, Cruz also broke through in Hollywood. You may have seen her in Vanilla Sky, the American version of the Spanish film Open Your Eyes, in which she also starred. Recently she was in Kenneth Branagh’s version of Murder on the Orient Express.
I liked her in Glory; she had a Sophia Loren kind of vibe as a woman of the country, raising young Salvador in a domicile fashioned out of a cave—yes, a cave; that’s how she refers to it. In the opening scene, we see her washing clothes with other women by a river, singing songs. Her character is an important part of the story; later on, we see her, still in flashbacks, as an old woman (played by Julieta Serrano) and Banderas gets to interact with her in some very fine scenes.
The acting all around is quite good. In judging acting ability with foreign language actors, I find I respond more to things like physical presence and being in the moment than I normally might with English-language actors. Since I constantly have to have one eye on the subtitles, it helps to be able to read body language and tone of voice, something I suspect we take for granted when we can automatically understand the language being spoken. Anyway, good movie.