Movie Review: Pedro Almadóvar’s Pain and Glory (Dolor y Gloria)

P&GposterAt 6:30 a.m. on the Friday after Christmas, I found myself fully inserted into a large MRI tube. For 45 minutes I had to remain completely still while an icy course of “tracer” pulsed through my veins and a cacophonous symphony of beeps, clanks and rumblings sneaked through the noise-reducing headphones that were provided.  Forty-five minutes in odd isolation gives you a lot of time to think…about pretty much everything, but certainly about one’s own mortality, about creativity and about finishing the work that one has started.

I don’t know if I am unconsciously seeking out these type of things/thoughts or that I am just noticing them more and more. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a Rodney Crowell song titled “It Ain’t Over Yet” which deals with not giving up despite what age and time and others might tell you. I’ve played that song at two separate gigs since then. Today I finally saw a film that I had been wanting to see since it came out a month ago: Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory.

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Antonio Banderas as Salvador Mallo in Pain and Glory

Almodóvar’s film deals also with the subject of mortality. (Though a two-hour film can certainly uncover many more layers than can ever be exposed in a four-minute song.) The protagonist, Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) is a film-director/screenwriter beset by pains and various medical conditions who has completely stopped working and who–when not self-medicating–slips into fond memories of his past, memories triggered by the slightest moments of the present.  There are memories of his mother, of his early home, of his childhood. And, at the moment, he feels that they are all he has.

Yet his film career is now the subject of art house retrospectives and a memoir piece is currently being staged by an old colleague/nemesis. But he has stopped working. There is nothing new.

He has a wonderful, solicitous secretary (Nora Navas) who continues to answer the many requests for interviews, conferences, etc–always with a “no” response. She is also charged with taxiing him to doctors and hospitals.  (A wonderful throw-away line is when he asks why he is so popular in Iceland, after the umpteenth Icelandic request for him to visit.)

I have loved Almodóvar’s films since I was quite young. And if asked what it is about all of them that I remember, I might say–beside the passionate storytelling–the color. His eye for color is startling. There are many vivid reds and electric blues–Mallo’s apartment is a designer’s dream–and even the white-washed caves that the young boy and his mother (Penelope Cruz) live in pop off the screen in memorable brilliance.

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Young Mallo (Asier Flores) and his mother (Penelope Cruz) in the cave where they live (before the white washing).

There has been much written about how Pain and Glory is Pedro Almodóvar’s most personal film. And that is easily understood. But since I am often teased for being a “spoiler” in any posts that I write about movies and books, I will do my best to restrain myself here. However, I will say that whatever Pedro Almodóvar is thinking, he should listen to Rodney Crowell’s song “It Ain’t Over Yet.”

Because this film is wonderful.

Movie Review: Pedro Almodovar’s I’m So Excited! (Los Amantes Pasajeros )

Pedro Almadovar famously said in 2012 that Pablo Berger’s Blancanieves was the best film made in Spain that year.

Pedro Almodovar at London premiere of I'm So Excited

Pedro Almodovar at London premiere of I’m So Excited!

Whether it was false modesty or not on Almodovar’s part, he could have said that his own Los Amantes Pasajeros was Spain’s funniest movie of the year.

Almadovar’s film–which was given the English title of I’m So Excited!--gives us all the things one wants in an Almodovar film: Brightness, intelligence, silliness, kinkiness, a large dose of drugs combined with a bit of social commentary, modern instability and fractured and teetering relationships . Working within a particular genre–a group of unusual characters are trapped within a small confine, Almodovar uses the trope to have fun, plain and simple.

The plot of the film is that a plane bound for Mexico from Madrid encounters immediate mechanical problems and must begin circling until an empty airport can be found so it can make an emergency landing. The crew, in order to keep things calm give the entire “economy class” and its attendants muscle relaxers, and they are asleep they entire film (except for one who is later sexually awakened!) Leave it to yourself to figure out what Almodovar is saying about the sleeping “economy class.”

Meanwhile business class has seven passengers: a washed-up actor, the most famous dominatrix in Spain, a shy hit-man, a crooked businessman, a honeymooning couple and a virginal psychic who has sneaked in from economy. And we soon learn their quirks, their secrets, and their passions. We are right to think we have been here before with Agatha Christie and that bunch. But we’d be wrong.

Listening to Norma's (Cecelia Ruth) secrets.

Listening to Norma’s (Cecilia Roth) secrets.

For we have never been here with the likes of Almodovar’s flight crew. They are introduced swigging shots of tequila as they prepare meals (their way to deal with the mechanical emergency after drugging the economy class). One has a pop-up Hindu temple that he prays to; the other is having an affair with the closeted and married pilot; and the third has his eyes on the “determinedly” heterosexual co-pilot. And as the danger becomes more eminent and potentially catastrophic, they entertain the business-class travelers with a song and dance routine (the Pointer Sisters’ “I’m So Excited!”)

The Airline Stewards performing "I'm So Excited"

The airline stewards performing “I’m So Excited”

This isn’t Ship of Fools, nor was it meant to be. It is silly, outrageous fun. And when the “Valencia Cocktails” are served, spiked with an overdose of mescaline, the fun really begins! As the one steward tells us, the mescaline will make people more open, more honest and horny. And was he ever right!

Almodavar has been soundly criticized for this, his nineteenth film, for its being too light, too campy, too slapstick. (One reviewer said to “never trust a movie title with an exclamation point”!) But the hell with them. Sometimes, light, campy and slapstick are what we need. I know I almost moved my seat because of the guffawing elderly lady near by. She laughed (loudly) non-stop. And there was good reason to.

Almodovar is sure of his craft and his precedents. The nods to Hitchcock’s Vertigo are almost immediately obvious–we quickly find ourselves staring into the twirling mechanics of a jet engine. While the awareness of his own personal filmography and progression is demonstrated by his opening the film with his original stars Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz–actors who never again appear in the film– anchoring it with Cecelia Roth who has played so many great Almodovar roles, and featuring a whole new stable of actors who are certain to show up in future Almodovar films. (Paz Vega is another actor who has played in Almodovar films before but who has a minor part and less than two minutes of screen time.)

Almodovar has his own bag of tricks and devices and storylines; that he uses them time and again is not necessarily a negative for me. We have neurotic women, shady men, flamboyant revelers, and unknowingly ingested drugs–as we have had often before in Almodovar films. But because the colors are bright and mod, the homosexuality over the top and flamboyant, the villains somewhat stereotyped and the story too sweetly resolved—because we know what to expect in an Almodovar film, it has been regularly panned by critics.

But for me, it was a cool, tasty, silly romp that was perfect for a muggy day at the end of July.