Pain and Glory (Almodóvar, 2019)

By Mónica Delgado

It isn’t accidental that the three films I’m stopping in this article have as its greatest attraction the performance of experienced actors in important histrionic challenges, beyond the plot or stylistic proposals of the filmmakers they are serving. Ira Sachs’ Frankie, Pedro Almodóvar Pain and Glory or the vibrant Il Traditore by Marco Bellocchio, get a great part of its value through the remarkable performances of their lead characters, but fall flat in other elements.

Much has been said about Pain and Glory, not only because it was selected for Cannes, being considered one of the favorites in this edition, but also because it had a previous premiere in Spain, which allowed the comments about this “being the best Almodóvar film”, have more echo, thus feeding the expectation. But beyond this anecdote, Pain and Glory is a film made for the show that is Antonio Banderas, who plays a pessimist filmmaker addicted to heroin, and the different motives that relate him to an alter ego of Almodóvar himself. All of this creates an endearing effect, which goes beyond the story or staging of the film itself. Maybe the biggest issues in this film are the flashbacks, which translate us to his infancy in the town of Paterna, despite the poverty, flashbacks which seek to justify every action or motivation of the character, and where the presence of Penélope Cruz playing a sacrificed housewife couldn’t be avoided.

There’s a lot of sensation of déja vu in the film, an impression that the other films of the filmmaker are present here, like ghosts, which isn’t a defect in itself, but a summa will always have an advantage, and maybe that sensation allow us to connect more with the idea that Banderas is actually Almodóvar, in an autobiography that strips him nude. I’m keeping the performance of Banderas as my favorite thing in the film, his best work as a filmmaker submitted to pain, both physical and amorous, and, like in the initial scene, lives holding his breath.

In Frankie, Ira Sachs poses a choral tale for a multinational encounter among more than a dozen of characters, around the trip of the lead character, the always impeccable Isabelle Hupert, to Sintra, Portugal. Frankie is a French actress who gathers ex and current lovers, siblings and friends, in Sintra, to have a friendly meeting, a meeting that anyway would turn into a place where secrets are unveiled and where feelings and discord will arise. Here, Ira Sachs leaves his usual New York and moves to Europe, to tell this story of conversations with quite a rohmerian touch. However, consistency is low, and the city of Sintra ends up winning for its presence as a fundamental environment (the Portuguese film commission must be quite pleased). The ending is the best thing on the film, and Isabelle Huppert scores once again in her career, since her character is ambivalent and offers nuances beyond charisma.

Marco Bellocchio Il Traditore, which was in the official competition, is an unromantic vision of the mafia and the Cosa Nostra. The filmmaker follows a character over twenty years, through betrayals and trials, from Palermo to Rio de Janeiro, from Sicilia to Miami, in a way of de-mystifying the figure of the “godfather”

The best of this film of veteran Bellocchio is its protagonist Pierfrancesco Favno, who plays Tomasso Buscetta, one of the first “repentant” or “traitors” who started the downfall of the Cosa Nostra in the eighties. This real life character, which Bellocchio brings to life with precision, triggers the so called Palermo Maxiprocess, in which more than 1400 people were trialed, and which got the attention of the press and Italian society for years. There’s an intention from the filmmaker to be faithful to the testimonies and the process, and this may be the best thing in the film, that has all the trademarks of a big super production, locations in several countries and a huge cast.

Bellochio concentrates his film in two big parts, in the revenge of the mafia clans and then in the trials, which take a big chunk of the footage. All this process, which Bellocchio registers yearning for the old mafia films, of sudden shots and calculated schemes, are focused in Buscetta and his family, his extradition from Brazil and his confrontation with all the accused. The value of family is paramount as a sentimental logic among it all, and also the figure of Buscetta submitted to this element, yearning for his dead children and unveiling that his delivery to justice had a lot to do with this defense of his home and family.

If maybe the treatment points to give another vision of the Sicilian mafia world, Bellocchio does obtain his “godfather”, but maybe from other angle, where it is impossible to collaborate with justice and cease to be an innate mafia man.