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Pain and Glory

Directed by Pedro Almodóvar

      Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas), a famous film director, recently lost his mother, Jacinta ( Julieta Serrano) and suffers from back pain. He agrees to do a Q&A for a screening of a newly restored version of one of his films, Sabor, so he tracks down the lead actor, Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia), to ask him join him for the Q&A. They haven't seen in each other in a few decades, but rekindle their friendship. Mallo recalls memories from his childhood when he (now played by Asier Flores) lived in a refurbished cave with his mother (now played by Penelope Cruz).

      Pain and Glory is a bittersweet and poignant story about the struggles of an artist grappling with old age and childhood memories. The semi-autobiographical screenplay by writer/director Pedro Almodóvar jumps back and forth between past and present seamlessly without any clunkiness, convolutedness or uneveness. Salvador's childhood and his evolving relationship with his mother affects his life in many ways which makes the film relatable because everyone's present-day emotional ailments are rooted in the past. As Pain and Glory plot progresses, it becomes increasingly complex, layered and even surprising. There's also just the right amount of nuance and no reliance on over-explaining, especially during a pivotal moment during Salvador's childhood when he comes-of-age and has a sexual awakening. Almodóvar, like all great filmmakers, trusts the audience's patience, intelligence and emotions. He treats Salvador like a human being which is a testament to his humanism, a truly special effect. He doesn't try to push the envelope here like he had done in his past films, so the film remains a tender character study from first frame to last. There's also some witty comic relief every now and then which helps to counterbalance the darker, heavier themes.

      While Almodóvar paints the window into Salvador's soul, it's Antonio Banderas who opens that window widely as much as Renée Zellweger did in Judy. You forget that you're watching Banderas because he fully transforms into Salvador. He deserves to be nominated for a Best Actor award come Oscar time. Most importantly, though, he finds the emotional truth of his role which allows the audience to feel empathy for Salvador every step of the way even when he's battling addiction to cocaine. His reunion with his old friend/actor Alberto is one of the film's most powerful and beautiful scenes. At a running time of 112 minutes, Pain and Glory manages to be warm, tender and profound. It's one of the best films of Almodóvar's career. Antonio Banderas gives an Oscar-worthy performance.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Sony Pictures Classics.
Opens Oct 4th, 2019 at Angelika Film Center and Landmark at 57 West.


Directed by Bong Joon Ho

      Kim Ki-woo (Choi Wood-shik) and his sister, Kim Ki-jung (Park So-dam), live in a dilapidated basement apartment with their mother, Kim Chung-sook (Jang Hye-jin) and father, Kim Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho). When Ki-Woo discovers that there's a job opening as a tutor for a wealthy family, he seizes the opportunity to tutor a teenager Da-hye Park (Jung Ziso), the daughter of Sun-kyun Lee (Park Dong-ik) and Park Yeon-kyo (Yeo-jeong Jo), and older sister of Park Da-song (Hyun-jun Jung) who live in an upscale. Soon, each member of the Kim family work for the Park family without them being aware that they're related.

     Like all great films, Parasite transcends its plot as well as its amalgam of different genres. The less you know about its plot beforehand the better, though, because the screenplay by writer/director Bong Joon Ho and co-writer Han Jin-won offers many clever twists and surprises. What ensues after the Kim family meets the Park family turns into an intriguing blend of psychological thriller, dark comedy, social commentary, and drama. Bong Joon Ho ratchet up the tension gradually with a slow-burning pace which shows that he trusts the audience's patience. He and Jin-won also include some provocative metaphors without hitting you over the head with them. Most effectively, though, they withhold key information from the audience until a major reveal during the second act that won't be spoiled here. The twists work because they're not dumb like those found in M. Night Shyamalan's films, and they're not meant to merely shock the audience. The performances by everyone, even those in the supporting roles, are all superb.

      Like Hitchcock, Bong Joon Ho knows how to keep his audience in suspense because the suspense derives from the anticipation of the events to come. Throughout Parasite, there's almost always a foreboding feeling of unease. You know that something dark will be happening imminently, but you don't know what that will be in particular. Bong Joon Ho and the co-writer clearly understand human nature because they treat the characters like human beings and their actions are all rooting in the way that human beings truly think, feel and behave in similar situations. You might even find yourself relating to some of the characters, but even if you don't you'll still sympathize with them, especially when it come to the heartfelt relationship between Kim Ki-woo and his father.

      On an aesthetic level, Parasite is a feast for the eyes without being gaudy or suffering from excessive style over substance like the recent Lucy in the Sky did with too many changes in aspect ratio. In other words, Bong Joon Ho doesn't try too hard to please the audience, although the camerawork does looks exquisite and communicates a lot through the lighting, set design and camera angles. The same can be said about the use of classical music which never becomes intrusive or distracting. At a running time of 2 hours and 12 minutes, Parasite is a triumph of directing, writing, cinematography and acting. It has repeat value and is destined to become an all-time classic that will be discussed and analyzed for many years to come. It's one of the best films of 2019 by far.

Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by NEON.
Opens October 11th, 2019 at IFC Center.

Avi Offer
The NYC Movie Guru
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