Full Review: PAIN AND GLORY (Dolor y Gloria) (Spain 2019) ***** Top 10

Pain & Glory Poster

A film director reflects on the choices he’s made in life as past and present come crashing down around him.


Pedro Almodóvar

PAIN AND GLORY sees director Pedro Almodovar still in peak form in this highly personal film about a successful filmmaker, Salvador (Antonio Banderas) in his autumn years.  A revival screening of an old movie, “Sabor” with the invitation for him and his main actor to attend a Q &A awakens skeletons in the closet.  The film intercuts his life as a child with his loving mother (Penelope Cruz) and his first male desire in the form of an older teen, Eduardo (César Vicente) he educates in reading, writing and in mathematics.  

PAIN AND GLORY is most similar to Almodovar’s best film LA MALA EDUCACION (BAD EDUCATION) with similar scenes like young boys bathing in the river and the influence on cinema on the protagonist as well as first love.  The young boys were under the watch of Catholic priests, one of which is a pedophile.  In PAIN AND GLORY, the river scene has Penelope Cruz, looking as beautiful as ever, washing her sheets in the river with other women and her son.  She is singing what could be a traditional country Spanish song in a scene that the protagonist, Salvador reminisces of.

PAIN AND GLORY draws from the work and life of director Almodovar and could be describe as an autobiographical film.  It can be described as several vignettes put together to form a story.

What is most inspirational about Almodovar movies, are that most of his movies are about the love of cinema.  In LA MALA EDUCACION, the two male lovers first met as kids in a cinema. In PAIN AND GLORY,  it is all about Salvador and his films.  At the film’s start, Salvador confesses he has just watched and was moved by his second watching of his film “Sabor”.  That is so true that watching a film a second viewing brings forth much more that was miss the first time. Salvador also confesses that his lead actor’s performance seems much better than it was 30 years ago.

The film’s best parts are those involving Salvador’s sexual awakening – when as a boy he places his hand over Eduardo’s, the one he is teaching how to write, or how the Eduardo trips don to wash, totally nude. 

Director Almodovar splashes his colours again in this film.  He transforms the dull cave Salvador lived in as a kid into whitewashed walls with colours in the curtains and tiles.

What is most marvellous is the way Almodovar shows the beauty in life and how life dishes it out.  Being poor, he had to go to a seminary on a scholarship to earn his A Levels diploma.  But there, he is pulled out to sing in the choir because of his beautiful voice and given passing grades in his subjects without learning anything.  Yet, when he became a filmmaker, his knowledge came from other means.  But now as an ageing filmmaker with physical and emotional ailments, Salvador must find himself again.

Salvador is constantly sick with ailments like migraines (Almodovar has them too), back pain and others.  Almodovar’s deeply personal work is extremely moving and he is able to arouse the audience to feel the pain suffered by Salvador.  Banderas won the Best Actor prize at Cannes for his portrayal of Salvador and the actor playing Salvador’s first desire is the hottest thing seen this year at TIFF.

PAIN AND GLORY has the best joke that would not be noticed by the majority of the audience.  I would call it Almodovar’s personal joke.  Which is really funny.  When the boy faints in the middle of the film, his mother and Eduardo think it is due to the sun and possibly a minor heat stroke.  But the reality is that the boy fainted after seeing Eduardo’s big penis.

I first viewed PAIN AND GLORY at TIFF and now a second time.  The film survives a viewing proving that it is layered, brilliantly and an overall excellent film.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEjFOkCKb3g 

CHAVELA (USA/Mexico/Spain 2017) ***

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Chavela Poster

Through its lyrical structure, Chavela will take viewers on an evocative, thought-provoking journey through the iconoclastic life of game-changing artist Chavela Vargas. Centered around … See full summary »


Catherine Gund (co-director), Daresha Kyi (co-director)

The film opens with the film’s subject Chavela Vargas saying on camera to her interviewer that it is not the past that counts but what goes on from then.  That was before the time of her death in 2012, so the doc has to take audiences back to where CHAVELA came from.      There is also the point that not many know who she is, so back to the past.

The question then is what is so special about this Mexican artist/singer and why is it necessary to dedicate an entire documentary to her?  This doc provides the possible answers, but whatever they are,  it should be noted that Chavela Vargas was the Mexican icon who scandalized and captivated the world around her.

  A few reasons:  Chavela was notorious and that demands some respect.  She had an affair with and broke the heart of artist, the then older Frida Kahlo.  She attended Elizabeth Taylor’s Acapulco wedding, and woke up in bed with the movie star Ava Gardner.  These are shown with just photographs of Liz Taylor and Gardner separately and voiceover, as no footage is assumed to be available.   She wielded a gun and indulged in tequila with legendary enthusiasm.  She has been known to collapse after drinking, and this happened often so that she had quite the reputation.  Her singing made Spanish director Pedro Almodovar – and millions of others – cry.  Her death in 2012 saw mourning akin to a Mexican state funeral.  She was open gay, though no one ever brought it up directly.  She became noticed as a singer when she refused to wear the traditional Mexican dresses but wore trousers and shirts (male attire) instead.  She adopted the performance persona of the “charro” (a singing-cowboy genre plied by her legendary and tragic friend and collaborator Jose Alfredo Jimenez). 

As Chavela died in 2012, the doc has to rely on already taken footage.  Fortunately co-director Catherine Gund was the interviewer, availing herself of a rare opportunity during a time she spent living south of Mexico City.  “My girlfriends played me Chavela’s songs and told me tales of her womanizing, her irresistible allure, her deep voice, her audacity. I had to meet her” She says.

The film is divided into two halves.  The second shows her comeback, mainly in Spain and finally back to Mexico.  This is the part where Spanish director Pedro Almodovar appears to aid her in her career.  He uses her music in his films like KIKA and THE FLOWER OF MY SECRET.

The film’s best parts are understandably her performances, where the audience can see for themselves the reason for her popularity.  She has the talent to move audiences to tears with her performances.  The last part of the film see her in a wheelchair before her death in 2012.

Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi’s documentary shows Chavela the way she is, and her lifestyle – warts and all.  At least their doc would make this artist (who every lesbian in Mexico respects, according to the film) more recognized in the world.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKyj5Tzrumo


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Film Review: JULIETA (Spain 2016) ***** Top 10


Directed by Pedro Almodovar

Writers: Pedro Almodóvar (guión), Alice Munro (basado en “Destino”, “Pronto” y “Silencio” de)

Stars: Emma Suárez, Adriana Ugarte, Daniel Grao

Review by Gilbert Seah

One of pouts of a good adaptation is that the adaptation contains the main story but has the author’s distinct imprint on it. From the very first 10 minutes of JULIETA, Almodovar’s adaptation of the book, written into a script by himself, the audience sees lots of Almodovar- and the Almodovar everyone likes.

The first scene is the modern apartment of the protagonist. She is dressed in bright red with matching bright red nail polish. She discards an envelope coloured bright blue and books of bright colours like yellow are seen on her book shelf. The next scene, a key one when she chance meets a friend of her daughter’s on the street, has the two quickly c friend is bing hurried along by three obviously queer queenie male friends. From the first two scenes, one can tell this is clearly an Almodovar with more surprised and delights on the way. One scene following is comical enough to feature a bright yellow garbage truck in the background.

JULIETE is one of Almodovar’s most talky films. Most of his later films have a 10- minute of so ‘talky’ segment in which some explanation to a plot is given. But JULIETA is talky from start to end. But this is not a bad or boring thing, as the script is filled with colourful dialogue, written by the master himself and full of his private anecdotes.

The film contains many shots of his past films. One for example has a group of young teens playing basketball. The scene has nothing to do with the movie, it is just thee when Juileta walks around the neighbourhood of her apartment, but it is reminiscent of the voyeuristic view of the bathing boys in the river in LA MALA EDUCATION, Almodovar’s best film. The same scene is visited later with teen girls playing the game.

JULIETA is about the mystery of life. Julieta’s daughter abandons her. It takes Julieat hers before she discovers the reason. It is here i the flashbacks where Almodovar’s film turns from stylized melodrama (no complaint) here to mystery, reminiscent of Hitchcock , complete with a score that sounds like Edward Hermann’s. In one scene, Lorenzo, Julieta’s lover even makes a reference to mystery writer Patricia Highsmith.

JULIETE contains many brilliantly executed scenes. One is the confrontation in which Julieta is told of her daughter’s intentions. “She has chosen her path, and you are not on it,” she is told. But the best scene occurs in the film’s subtle last minute, where a clever line told by Renato to Julieta ends the film.

Almodovar has progressed from comic to a serious director. His early comedies WHAT HAVE I DONE TO DESERVE THIS?, WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN or KIKA have none of the dead seriousness of JULIETA. JULIETA is Amodovar at his most mature and also arguably at his best.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YH5_4osOZK8


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Happy Birthday: Pedro Almodóvar

pedroalmodovar.jpgPedro Almodóvar

Born: September 25, 1949 in Calzada de Calatrava, Ciudad Real, Castilla-La Mancha, Spain

[2016 interview] Reality always filters through into my films, even when I try to reject it. It finds a crack to seep in through. The climate of the last four years in Spain has been of enormous unhappiness and even though I haven’t personally suffered from the harshness of the economic situation, I’m surrounded by people who have. I don’t think Julieta (2016) is a metaphor for Spain today but it’s no accident that my 80s films were much happier.

dir. Pedro Almodovar
Penelope Cruz
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TIFF 2016 Movie Reviews: JULIETA (Spain 2016) *** 1/2 Directed by Pedro Almodovar

Movie Reviews of films that will be playing at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) in 2016. Go to TIFF 2016 Movie Reviews and read reviews of films showing at the festival.

julieta.jpg JULIETA (Spain 2015) *** 1/2
Directed by Pedro Almodovar

Stars: Adriana Ugarte, Rossy de Palma, Emma Suárez

Review by Gilbert Seah

A film being looked forward to, as it is based on Canadian author and Nobel Prize Winner Alice Munro’s short stores from her book “Runaway”.

Written and directed by Pedro Almodovar, his 20th film marks a departure from his signature melodrama to more high drama. Three short stores are combined into a strong narrative, told largely in flashback with a voiceover by the lead character, obviously called Julieta (Emma Suárez and Adriana Ugarte as older and younger versions of the film’s protagonist)

Film cineastes will be delighted to connect with film references from anything from the recent WINTER’S BONE seen in a poster to STRANGERS ON A TRAIN with a nod to author Patrician Highgate.

The film contains more dialogue than the standard Almodovar movie, and it is for this reason the director opted not to do the initial English languanger version with Meryl Streep in the title role. Aldmodovar’s use of bright colours is still felt throughout tho colourful story of life and regrets.

Trailer: https://www.youtube. com/watch?v=NHkGsbz8rLY