Color. That’s what you’ll remember from Pedro Almodovar’s new film “Pain and Glory,” especially red. My God, the man loves red. But color is everywhere, color for mood, color, you may assume as metaphor, who knows?

The set, the star’s (Antonio Banderas) apartment, we’re told is an exact replica of Almodovar’s home, a patchwork of colored walls, bright red cabinets and Spanish tiles.

The Story: From the first scene, we’re whipped into the story, the time, the characters, the music of his writing.

“Pain,” of course, is a very personal film, a completely honest autobiography, so tender, sweet and painful that it takes hold of all the senses from the start.

It begins with the auteur, Salvador Mallo (Banderas) an internationally famous filmmaker, now a retired and hermitic older man sitting in a swimming pool, eyes focused on images of the past floating in front of him.

We see a small boy, drawing in the sand at the river’s edge, where his mother Jacinta (a still gorgeous Penelope Cruz) is washing clothes in the river with her friends.

The family it seems, has been forced by the father’s bad luck, to a village where everyone lives under ground in grotto like caverns with white washed walls.

“Pain” will flow back and forth from childhood to Mallo in his early old age, when we find him submerged in the greenish blue water of the pool where he is trying to ease the fierce pain that fills his body. The camera focuses on a long red scar down his chest. Mallo, we learn, silently suffers from all manner of pain from tinnitus to chronic choking migraine headaches and debilitating back pain that forced him into isolation.

When Mallo learns of a studio’s plan to release a restored version of the film “Sabor” that made him famous, he is driven by a deep spiritual angst to seek out the star of the movie, an ego driven heroin addict, still functioning and magnetic, Alberto Crespo, (Asier Etxeandia) one of his best friends from whom he has been alienated for 25 years.

Alberto wants to make a stage performance of Mallo’s work, a dream long denied him by the artist’s legal restrictions.

Mallo finds Alberto’s address and comes to him to make amends, and perhaps to allow him to fulfill his dream. Together, they agree for it to happen.

The night Alberto stages the piece, a handsome man with graying beard sits in the audience with tears in his eyes. This will be Federico, (Leonardo Sbaraglia) a lover from the past. This results in an evening’s reunion, one of the three most powerful scenes in the film.

The most poignant scene of all is Mallo’s remembrance of visiting his dying mother (now played by a heartbreaking Julieta Serrano) who gives him a detailed schematic of her funeral he must follow, which rosary to place in her hands, not the new one, but the old one.

Scanning the scenes of Almodovar’s past films we can see that this is probably the greatest, most sensitive and haunting picture of his career.

And certainly, watching moments into the film, it’s obvious that we’re watching the best work ever of the magnetic Banderas, a far journey from his swaggering romantic days as the Spanish torero of love.

Bent, bearded, eyes flickering with amber memories, with hair tousled from too many years on his pillow, Banderas astonishes with a performance that won him the best actor prize at France’s Cannes Film Festival.

“Pain and Glory,” is heightened by the absolutely magical lantern camera of Jose Luis Alcaine and the nostalgic score by Alberto Iglesias.

It’s a sure bet that the entire company will be on the stage at the Dolby Oscar theatre along side Almodovar for Best Foreign Film of 2019.

 

J.P.  Devine, of Waterville, is a former stage and screen actor.

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