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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
A Unique Love Story
by James Colt Harrison

Antonio Banderas proved he can act by winning the Best Actor award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival for his role in director Pedro Almodovar’s film Pain and Glory. The world-wide consensus is that it may well be Banderas’ best role to date and one that may get him an Oscar® nomination at next year’s Academy Award® ceremonies in Hollywood.

Almodovar has written a story that tends to parallel his own life, with a few exceptions, and Banderas plays him. Salvador (Banderas) is now an older man who has been a successful film director all his life until now. He is plagued with the aging process and has hit the wall of creativeness. He feels washed up. Is there another movie left in him? He doesn’t know if he can make another film. He seeks relief in heroin, as given him by Alberto (Asier Etxeandia), an actor from one of his hit films. This only makes him more of a mess.

Salvador is greatly attached to his mother, and in flashbacks to his youth we see a lovely Penelope Cruz play his happy mother, washing clothes on the rocks in the river with the other village women. (Veteran actress Julietta Serrano plays her as an older woman). We also are given a glimpse of Salvador as a boy, played brilliantly by moppet actor Asier Flores. His libido is beginning to develop as he sees his first naked man taking a shower in the form of workman Eduardo (the sculpted young body of Cesar Vicente). The sight of such beauty and masculinity is so intense an experience for him that he faints in ecstasy. Thus, the path he will take in life is formed.

As Salvador wanders through his home (allegedly a near-replica of Almodovar’s beautifully appointed home), he sees things through the eyes of cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine, who intensifies the vibrant colors of the paintings and art objects that define the director’s artistic taste and sense of color.

When the phone rings, we see Salvador immediately recognize the voice of Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia), his former lover during his youth. Banderas uses the hurt in his voice to convey a loss that meant very much to him. When Federico arrives at the apartment, old feelings flare up for just a moment, but both know things can never be the same as too many changes have happened in their lives. It is a sweet love story that must remain in the past.

Banderas plays the defeated director as a man who has nearly given up on life and creativity. He’s almost demolished by what life has handed him. Banderas shows himself to be resigned to his fate as a man who has been hollowed out by events of his own making. It is Banderas’ finest hour of acting. He’s in an acting place he has never experienced before and triumphs in his exquisite portrayal of a man near and dear to his heart.

Banderas was more or less discovered by Almodovar when he was a young struggling actor. Almodovar became Banderas’ mentor and cast him in several films including 1982’s Labyrinth of Passion.

(Released by Sony Pictures Classics and rated “R” for drug use, some graphic male frontal nudity, language.)

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