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'Pain and Glory' is a Character Study in Retirement


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Pain and Glory, the latest film from writer-director Pedro Almodóvar, finds the veteran Spanish director looking inward for inspiration. The movie centers on Salvador (Antonio Banderas), a filmmaker and writer who has decided to retire. "What will you do?" a friend asks him when she hears of his decision. "Live," he dryly retorts, suggesting the way in which the film will examine how he comes to terms with his past in order to proceed into the future.

Anchored by a compelling performance by Banderas, who won the Best Actor award earlier this year when the movie made its international debut at the Cannes Film Festival, Pain and Glory makes for a riveting character study. It opens area-wide on Friday.

Throughout the movie, a series of flashbacks tell us more about Salvador, who grew up in rural Spain in the 1960s. A flashback to when he was a young boy trying out for choir reveals he's always had an interest in pop culture. When the priest holding the auditions asks him if he likes music, he responds that he loves "the Beatles and the cinema." The priest tells him that he needs to take an interest in "less pagan subjects."

Flash-forward to the present day, and Salvador's earlier film, Sabor, has been re-mastered and re-released. The local theater asks him to make an appearance with star Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia), the lead actor from the film with whom Salvador hasn't spoken since the movie wrapped production. Salvador makes amends with Alberto, and the actor re-introduces Salvador to heroin, and Salvador once again becomes hooked.

When taking the drug, he recalls some of his childhood experiences and remembers moving into a small house with his father (Raúl Arévalo) and mother Jacinta (Penelope Cruz), who send him to seminary because that's the only way they can ensure he'll receive a good education.

The process of thinking about his past and reconnecting with Alberto reawakens Salvador's creativity, though he eventually realizes he must come to terms with his drug use and address a variety of other physical ailments.

Even if you don't know the various ways in which Salvador's experiences relate to Almodóvar's, the movie resonates.

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