So many of Pedro Almodóvar’s best films have been autobiographical that I hesitate to criticize this one for oversharing, but that’s how I felt at first.  The filmmaker even chronicles his medical issues in some detail. I would never criticize a great artist for being personal in his work, but at times Pain and Glory made me feel downright uncomfortable. Yet it has remained with me since I saw it several weeks ago. It’s rare to find a film with that kind of staying power.

Antonio Banderas is perfectly cast as Almodóvar’s alter ego Salvador, a filmmaker who has lost the will to create. He suffers so much pain that he doesn’t think he can direct another movie and doesn’t want to write anything he can’t direct. Having agreed to introduce a film he made thirty years ago at the local cinemathèque, he reaches out to its leading actor, who he hasn’t spoken to since they quarreled decades ago. The actor reluctantly welcomes Salvador into his home and offers him heroin, which the director takes to immediately. He soon becomes dependent on the drug, and continues to rely on it as he encounters prominent figures from his recent and distant past.

The most vivid episodes are flashbacks to the director’s youth, with a radiant Penélope Cruz as his mother and Asier Flores as her precocious son. These adoring vignettes stand out in sharp relief from the climactic scenes where Salvador engages his elderly mother in candid conversation. These moments are so achingly real that I felt like I was eavesdropping on a conversation I had no business hearing.

That’s Almodóvar for you. In interviews he has tried to distance himself from the character of Salvador, declaring that he and Pedro are not one and the same. Yet he has also said, “My life has indirectly found its way into every picture I’ve made, but Pain and Glory is the most representative of me. I have deposited in it everything that I own: my furniture, my paintings, my clothes, my intimacy, a few ghosts, my childhood memories, and my need to carry on making films as my only way of life.”

The gifted writer-director strikes a Fellini-esque pose as he takes us on this journey through his life, intermingling memories both happy and poignant. I may have felt some discomfort at his candor but he knows how to burrow into my consciousness. Ultimately I must throw off any misgivings that remain and bow to a true master.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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May 2024