It’s to be expected that Pain And Glory would get a huge turnout at the VIFF. Pedro Almodovar is a darling of the arthouse film world. The buzz is this time, he’s reuniting with Antonio Banderas for the first time in over 30 years. Is it worth the hype?
The film is told by the first-person view of film director Salvador Mallo. Salvador is in a pool meditating alone. He has had open-heart surgery in the past. He’s had issues involving both his family and his sexuality in his past. He became renowned through his breakthrough film Sabor– a still beloved in its current remastering — but considers every film since to be a failure. He’s also had issues with back pain and other medical issues. All of this has caused a struggle to get inspired again with filming. He knows he has to, but he can’t. Not even as his landmark film Sabor (‘flavor’ in Spanish) has been remastered and re-released.
Over time, he learns he has to make peace with his past. He first reflects back to his childhood. His mother was the biggest influence in his life. As a child, he was a dreamer and his mother always fancied him to be one. He did great in academic studies, but he had a love for singing and a special love for movie stars. He was sent over to a convent school; something that was of great expense to his mother. However he also reflects to the last days he was with his mother. He was so consumed with his filmwork and his writing, he was negligent to his ailing mother. He did however promise he would take her back to the countryside where she could spend her last days, but she died before he could.
As his film Sabor is being re-released and even shown to film enthusiast, he reunites with Alberto Crespo, the lead actor of the film. Mallo hasn’t spoken to Crespo in 30 years because of his perceived ‘bad’ performance in the film. Crespo is not happy to see him, but gets Mallo into smoking heroin. During his heroin-smoking, he’s able to recount some of his memories. One is of the time in his childhood when his parents had to move into a whitewashed cave house because of how poor they were. The mother hired a laborer to repaint the inside. As part of the deal, Salvador is to teach the illiterate laborer how to read and write.
Another flashback of past memories comes during a Q&A during a screening of Sabor. Mallo, at Crespo’s house at the time, is too down to attend, but corresponds with the crowd through Crespo’s phone. Crespo is able to tell the crowd of some of the wonderful memories of the 80’s and talks of Federico: Mallo’s boyfriend at the time. Federico is in the crowd and responds. That infuriates Mallo and he responds to Crespo violently. It just reminds him it’s another past memory he has to come to terms with. Mallo loved Federico and the two were almost inseparable, but Federico had a bad drug addiction at the time and Mallo had to end the relationship. The heroin abuse Mallo is addicted to is very similar to the struggle Federico went through during their time together. Eventually Federico and Mallo reconcile during a dinner. He learns Federico has sobered up since, moved to Buenos Aires, married a woman and fathered three children.
Over time, Mallo needs to recover from his own drug addiction and have further check-ups on his throat which causes him to choke for no reason. He knows his time is very limited, or feels strongly that it is. His assistant gives him tickets to an opening to an art gallery. Over at the opening, Salvador notices a drawing of a boy sitting with a book. That drawing isn’t any child. It’s Salvador! It then reminds him of the time in Salvador’s childhood the laborer was drawing a picture of Salvador sitting with a book as a thank-you gift. Only his mother would later hide the drawing without Salvador’s knowledge. After the laborer finished, he needed to bathe. Salvador left to lie down in the bed from all the heat, but woke up to get the man a towel. When he saw the laborer naked, Salvador had a look of delightful surprise and fainted. The laborer thought Salvador fainted of heat stroke.
Soon Salvador is able to buy the drawing and he sees the thank-you message from the laborer on the back. His assistant recommends Salvador to find the laborer through a Google search, but Salvador feels it’s not worth the bother. Soon Salvador does go for the surgery to get the growth removed from his throat. The film goes to a scene to Salvador’s childhood of him with his mother waiting for a train during a village fiesta and watching the fireworks in awe. Only it’s not a flashback. It’s a scene from a film Salvador is directing about his past life. His desire to film has returned again!
When one watches the film, one can easily wonder if this is a film meant to be autobiographical of Almodovar himself? The life of Salvador does seem to mirror Almodovar’s own life in many ways. Pedro himself fell in love with films and movie stars as a child He was sent to a religious school as a boy in hopes of becoming a priest and was abused. Pablo is openly gay, and of course became a renowned film maker. Even the falling out between Salvador and Crespo is actually symbolic of the falling out between Almodovar and Banderas. However there are a lot of differences between Salvador and Pedro. Salvador appears to be born around 1960 while Pedro was born in 1949. Salvador is an only child raised by a mother and father who’s rarely there while Pedro was one of four raised by both parents; his father being alcoholic. Salvador appears to have had one masterpiece film while Pedro has had decades of masterpiece films. Also while Salvador appeared to lack inspiration and the drive to make films after illness and physical setbacks, Almodovar appeared to continue well.
Nevertheless it still gets one thinking. The film got me thinking does Almodovar see Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown, his breakthrough film outside of Spain, to be garbage or the bane of his existence to him? Artsy types are so full of self-loathing! Also I have not been too familiar with Almodovar’s health problems. I have not known of any health problems happening to Almodovar. If there are any problems, they have not been made too public. Almodovar has made his back problem open recently, but did he ever have that throat problem? And the drug addiction. I know addiction is common in Almodovar films, but I haven’t heard of Almodovar addicted to heroin smoking.
This film may not be the best film Pedro Almodovar has done, but it has to be his most personal. There are a lot of similarities between Salvador and Pedro. There are also some that become questioning. Was Almodovar ever hooked on heroin? Is Almodovar envisioning what he could have been if he were a one-hit-film-wonder? One thing about Almodovar’s films is that he doesn’t just tell a story. He creates a lot of moods and images as if he’s paining a cinematic portrait. He tries to get us to feel the characters, feel the moments, feel the emotions. He has the ability to romanticize even the most bizarre moments. Even a man who impregnates a comatose woman (in 2002’s Talk To Her). This film is no exception. He helps us see the story through the eyes of Salvador in both his flashbacks and of the present moment, and romanticizes it. This is another accomplishment for Almodovar. It’s no wonder he’s become a film festival darling.
The funny thing of the film is that the flashbacks of Salvador’s childhood appear to be flashbacks. However it’s at the end that we learn that the flashbacks of his childhood we see are the flashbacks intended for Salvador’s new film. Filming within a film. That should have been apparent when there was Penelope playing the younger version of the mother in the flashbacks while the older mother had blue or green eyes. It made you wonder how did that happen? Now you know at the end.
The film also marks a great return to Almodovar collaborating with Antonio Banderas. Those of us in North America remember how he became a huge movie star in the 1990’s. What many did not know is that it was through Almodovar’s films that Banderas had his breakthrough. I still remember how he played a husband in Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown. Banderas actually acted in five of Almodovar’s film before breaking into the US upon the release of Mambo Kings. It appears like both made the other’s success. Here they reconnect and Banderas delivers what could be his most intimate, if not his best, acting performance ever. He does an excellent job of adding dimension to the character of the filmmaker in all of his joys, his hurts and his passions. Also Banderas isn’t afraid to show the surgery scars from his own open-heart surgery here.
Asier Exteandia is also good at the actor Crespo who is able to make peace with him, albeit turbulently. Also a delight to watch is Asier Flores as young Salvador. He added to the light-hearted parts of the film and even added some comedy too. The score from Alberto Iglesias helps dd to the feel to the film. Iglesias has contributed to the scores of many of Almodovar’s films and he does a great job of it again here.
The film could do well at this year’s Oscars. For the Cannes Film Festival, it was nominated for the Palme d’Or and won Best Actor for Banderas and Best Soundtrack for Iglesias. The International Cinephile Society gave the Prix Du Jury award to Almodovar and the Best Actor award to Banderas, and Banderas also won Best Actor at this year’s Hollywood Film Awards. This film is also Spain’s official submission to the Oscar category of Best International Feature Film; the seventh Almodovar film to be Spain’s official entry in this category.
I wouldn’t say Pain And Glory is worth the hype, but it is a very unique story. It almost autobiographical in some ways. Even if it’s not completely autobiographical, it makes a good story all its own.
Spider is Chile’s official submission for this year’s Academy Award for Best International Feature Film. The film will touch a raw nerve with Chileans due to its set in history.
The film begins in modern-day Chile. Out of nowhere, a purse-snatching happens. A man in a vehicle notices and tries to chase down the snatcher. The snatcher tries to avoid him, but Gerardo makes a turn into a concrete wall and crushes the snatcher to death. When the police arrive, they find a lot of guns and ammunition in the car. They also learn of his identity and arrest him.
That same day, Ines, a powerful businesswoman, arrives home tired after a long day. She learns from her husband Justo about the arrest. Both of them know the man. His name is Gerardo, and they’re surprised he’s still alive. Gerardo is known as a member of the former group Fatherland And Liberty. This is a group Ines and Justo belonged to back in the 1970’s along with Gerardo. While incarcerated, Gerardo is given a psychiatric evaluation. Ines arrives at the department of justice and is unhappy about just a simple psychiatric evaluation. The man in charge is asking what Gerardo did to her.
The film flashes back to 1969 in Santiago. Salvador Allende, a Socialist, became the democratically-elected president of Chile. At that time, Ines, Justo and Gerardo were all young adults. Ines was a beauty pageant contestant. Justo was her boyfriend at the time. Gerardo was a judge for the pageant. At the pre-contest interview, she charms Gerardo. As the two appear to drive home, they see Gerardo on the sidewalk and ask about him. They learn of his involvement with the Chilean air force and invite him to join their political group.
The group they are a part of is the group Fatherland And Liberty: a far-right fascist group which bears a spider-like figure as their symbol. They’re against traditional politicians and they’re especially opposed to the Allende government, fearing that Chile will become Communist like Cuba.
Returning back to the present, Gerardo is under psychiatric evaluation. Every time he is questioned by the attractive nurse, he appears to be making passes at her. Meanwhile Ines is trying to negotiate with the government agency against having the past involvement of her and her husband with the group. The man she’s dealing with wonders how big of a problem can this be for her? She tells the facts.
Flashing back to the past, the group did a lot of violent acts. They painted over images that appeared pro-Socialist like those of Che Guevara. They disrupted any pro-Allende events and start riots with Marxist supporters. They started their own military group with their own manifesto. They also caused destruction and explosions through their political motives. Gerardo even commits to shootings. They had a goal of overthrowing the Allende government. They all believed they were doing the right thing and believe they will be seen as heroes of Chile. During the time, the romance between Ines, Justo and Gerardo get in a heated love triangle. Then one day in the summer, Gerardo decides to fake his disappearance and make it appear like he crashed his plane. The group receives the ‘news’ and he’s seen as a martyr.
Back to the present, Ines is hugely concerned about what news Gerardo will bring about. Justo is so upset over the news, he starts to suspect if Ines still has romantic feelings towards Gerardo. Gerardo appears in his psychiatric interviews to show no remorse of his killings. He feels he did the right thing each and every time. Gerardo is still incarcerated, but notices how the other native Chileans are assaulting a Haitian emigre. Word is out how Gerardo has become a hero in Chile thanks to social media. Gerardo then breaks out. The first place he goes is to the house of Ines and Justo. Only Ines is there to confront him. The film ends appearing like the past returned for Gerardo and appearing the past is buried for Ines and Justo.
The film touches on a moment of Chile’s history. Allende was democratically elected in the late 1960’s, but there was nervousness with him being a Socialist both in the USA and abroad. For those that don’t know, Allende was assassinated in a CIA-led coup in 1973 and replaced by Pinochet who ruled like a ruthless dictator until he voluntarily stepped down in 1990. The fear of Allende being Socialist did touch at home in Chile too. Even though Allende was democratically-elected, there was fear Chile would be a Communist country just like Cuba.
The Fatherland And Liberty (Patria y Libertad) group did exist in real life. They are the radical right-wing activist group that emerged after Allende’s election. They attempted to overthrow the Allende government in June of 1973, but failed. They had collaboration from Chilean Armed Forces to sabotage infrastructure. The two banded together to assassinate Allende’s naval aide and cause a power outage as Allende broadcast a speech. The group disbanded on September 12, 1973: the day after Pinochet’s coup assassinated Allende.
Right now, Chile should be a free democracy. If they are not 100%, they should have way more freedoms since Pinochet was deposed in 1989. However the film gives an impression that Chile still feels a lot of the scars of the past 50 years. Chile may be a democracy and may have done a lot since the fall of Pinochet to become more democratic and give the people more freedoms and a better quality of life, but there’s still the feel there’s a lack of freedom. That’s evident by the violent protests that have made news in recent weeks.
Sometimes I feel like the film is saying the ghosts of Chile’s past have come to haunt them. Even how three people from a neo-Marxist group of the past would reunite involuntarily. The ending of the film does get one thinking. Especially as the past appears to be over for one while coming back for another. The film is, in a sense, a fictional story within a real-life moment of history. The Fatherland And Liberty group did exist from the start of Allende to his end. The film has three different people. There’s Gerardo who appears silent and harmless on the outside, but a nasty killer deep inside. There’s Ines, who was young and full of strong beliefs as she was young, but grew up and moved on. There’s Justo who appears to have moved just like Ines, but appears like he can’t once he receives the news of Gerardo’s return. The ending is a shock, but it seems to suit the personalities of all three. Gerardo appears he will only appear to be known for his killings. While Justo and Ines appear to put the past behind them and become two of love and for a better Chile. Note I say ‘appear.’
This film is another good film by director Andres Wood. Chile’s political past is a common theme in a lot of Andres’ works. This story, which is scripted by Guillermo Calderon, is a good story that sends a message of modern-day Chile still being haunted by its turbulent past. The story does often seem more story-driven than character-driven at times. The actors, both the older and the younger actors, do a good job in playing their parts well. Mercedes Moran is best as the older Ines who has a past to hide and is determined to hide it. She’s also good as the woman best at settling the score between Gerardo and Justo. She knows Gerardo will never be good at loving and only good at killing. Marcelo Alonso is also good as the older Gerardo who hasn’t lost his sense to kill and to think that he is right in doing so.
Spider is a fictional telling of a real neo-Fascist group in Chile of the 1970’s. However the film appears it’s trying to send a bigger message of a moment in Chile’s history that has left scars in the nation not even its current democratic system can heal.
WIKIPEDIA: Fatherland And Liberty. Wikipedia.com. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. 2019.<Fatherland And Liberty>
What can I say? Illnesses have a lot to do with why I’ve been late in publishing my blogs from the VIFF. However things have been getting better lately. So I can come back at it.
One thing I like about going to the VIFF is I get the chance to see films that are ‘off the beaten path.’ One of which was the Portuguese film Djon Africa which was a good story to watch.
The film begins with a 25 year-old Portuguese man names Miguel. He works construction during the day and is musician Djon Africa by night. He is a bit of a slacker. He was raised by his grandmother and has family roots in the African island of Cape Verde. However he doesn’t feel at home in Portugal. He’s asked about his father and his grandmother often says ‘a bit of a player and a scoundrel.’ One day he goes clothes shopping with his girlfriend and a storeowner suspects him of shoplifting. Racism?
One day he comes across a good amount of money. He makes the decision to travel to Cape Verde in search of his father. The problem is he has nothing to go with. He doesn’t know what his father’s name is, which town he lives in or who his family is, other than a sister who lives in the capital city of Praia. Nevertheless he is determined. During the flight, Miguel already begins envisioning the Cape Verde he knows nothing about by dreaming of the stewardesses dancing in the aisle.
Then Miguel arrives in Praia, the capital city of Cape Verde. Even as he gets off the plane, he notices how more picturesque Cape Verde is in comparison the Lisbon. The first place he goes to do his search is visit his aunt. Unfortunately he hears the bad news from family in mournful prayer that his aunt has been deceased for a year. He learns the aunt has family in Taffaral, but when he gets there, he learns he’s possibly in the wrong Taffaral; Cape Verde has two Taffarals. To make the search more frustrating, Miguel loses a lot of his belongings after a night of getting intoxicated on Cape Verde’s firewater liquor grogue.
During that time of island-hopping from place to place, he comes across the natives in various ways. He comes across a lot of younger girls who have taken aback with his dreads and even call him ‘Bob Marley.’ He comes across a goat-herder Maria Antonia who impulsively gets him to work her land. He agrees. One can sense that Miguel is losing focus in his search for his father and has started falling in love with the country he never knew. Then he gets a phone call from Portugal. It’s his girlfriend back in Lisbon telling him she’s pregnant. The film ends with one final image of Miguel walking the street.
It’s a common story to see sons search for their father. We see it time and time again. However this does have its own way of telling the story. The biggest ingredient is the land of Cape Verde and the people themselves. The people that Miguel come across, the places that he visits, they make for Miguel’s time here and are key to changing him as a person. It’s even people like the farmer who teach Miguel to be responsible. The meeting face-to-face with his father doesn’t happen, but I believe it was the intention of the film to be a lot more than that.
One thing about the film is that it gives a lot of charming images of Cape Verde: of the people, of daily life, of the geography. All of which play a role as it is part of Miguel’s experience in Cape Verde as he tries to find his father. During the time he learns a lot about where his father comes from even though he hasn’t met him face to face. Miguel even learns more about himself.
SPOILER WARNING: DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW THE ENDING: The ending where you see Miguel walking down the street will get you wondering. Especially since it’s after his girlfriend calls Miguel to let his know she’s pregnant. Sure, we simply see Miguel walking down the street, but it does get you wondering. Will Miguel be like his father that he decides to stay in Cape Verde? Miguel has sure come to embrace the island. Also that image where Miguel walks down and an older man in dreads looks back: possibly his father. It may give you the idea that the two may meet someday soon. Maybe it’s best that the movie end there, with the two not meeting and with it being unclear Miguel will return to Portugal for his girlfriend. They say film should leave people asking questions instead of getting answers.
Top notes go to directors Joao Miller Guerra and Filipa Reis. The personal couple are most experienced in making documentaries and short films. Here you can sense that the story is told documentary-style as Miguel learns something new every day and grows as a person. Also worth admiring is the performance of Miguel Moreira. He doesn’t do any over-the-top drama in his acting. His acting is all about growing inside as a person, and we see that in the film. Also deserving high recommendation is cinematographer Vasco Viana. The images of the geography of the land and the people are very key in this personal story of Miguel. Vasco delivers excellent images that help make the story.
Djon Africa may come across as a boring film at first, but it’s a story about personal growth. You have to see it to understand it, as well as understand the ending.
Some of you may remember I did an article on Etan Patz about a month ago. It was as much a focus on how Etan’s abduction sure changed the meaning of childhood as it was about the failed attempt of finding the body. Who would have thought that an arrest would be made within a month? This could lead to the closure of the most famous missing child case in US history.
For the record, there have been no previous arrests in Etan Patz’s disappearance. Jose Ramos has always been considered the prime suspect and was even slapped a wrongful death lawsuit against Stan and Julie Patz, but was never charged criminally. The common reason was because there was no body to charge him. Last month’s investigation by the NYPD in excavating an apartment’s basement didn’t lead to the arrest of Othniel Miller because nothing was found.
On May 24, 2012, an arrest was finally made in the Etan Patz case. His name is Pedro Hernandez. His confession comes as he is currently going through cancer. He’s 51 and a resident of Maple Shade, NJ but he was 18 at the time of Etan’s disappearance and worked a bodega just blocks from the Patz’s apartment. Hernandez has provided a written signed confession to the police that he lured the boy into the store with candy, strangling him, and putting the body in a box. He also claimed he put the box with the trash where it was later taken away. The NYPD have charged Hernandez with second-degree murder in the ‘online booking process.’ Hernandez is now in Bellevue Hospital where is under suicide watch.
One would ask why would this take a long time to happen? It’s been known that Hernandez is a schizophrenic with a long history of both audio and visual hallucinations. A brother-in-law described him as having a short fuse and ‘would get angry at nothing.’ His wife Rosemary even took out a restraining order against him once but allowed him to move back in recently. The big shocker is some of the clues leading to this. Family members have heard confessions from Hernandez as far back as 1981 that he ‘done a bad thing and killed a boy in New York City.’ It was even revealed that his name was in the original police file back in 1979. Back then, some of his co-workers were questioned but he wasn’t. Even when he did admit to police about killing Etan in the past, it was treated as suspicion as a hoax-call as there were so many at the time. It wasn’t until the heightened activity of last month that prompted a tip off leading to Hernandez finally being arrested.
This also brings into question the allegations of the other two accused suspects Jose Ramos and Othniel Miller. Ramos’ accusations could become touchy since the Patz parents won a wrongful death lawsuit against him in 2004. There were a lot of strong hints linking him to be the prime suspect like being the boyfriend of his babysitter at the time and even confessing in prison during an unrelated pedophilia case of ‘activity’ with him. Now with Hernandez being arrested, does that clear Ramos of Etan’s wrongful death? Future events and new leads should lead to the truth coming out once and for all about Etan’s disappearance.
It seems like a humorless irony that I should publish this update on what is National Missing Childrens Day and 33 years to the day Etan went missing. Nevertheless this is a ray of hope in getting the case solved and possibly the answers to a family of what happened to their Etan.
Webster, Richard. “Pedro Hernandez Charged With The Murder of Etan Patz” San Francisco Examiner 24 May 2012. <http://www.examiner.com/article/pedro-hernandez-charged-with-the-murder-of-etan-patz>
Hughes, Mark. “Etan Patz killing: Pedro Hernandez ‘had a long history of hallucinations’” The Daily Telegraph 26 May 2012. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/9291650/Etan-Patz-killing-Pedro-Hernandez-had-a-long-history-of-hallucinations.html>