Spain vs. South Korea: International Oscar Frontrunners Pain & Glory and Parasite Open This Week in San Antonio


  • Sony Pictures Classics // Neon

It might seem like the capital cities of Madrid, Spain, and Seoul, South Korea, are worlds apart, but chances are, filmmakers from both countries will meet face to face during this fall’s award season. Early predictions have Spanish director and Oscar-winning screenwriter Pedro Almodóvar’s contemplative drama Pain & Glory headed for a matchup against Korean filmmaker Bong Joon Ho’s dark social satire Parasite for this year’s Academy Award for Best International Feature.

In Pain & Glory, Almodóvar tells the semi-autobiographical story of Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas), a retired filmmaker who emerges from a solitary life when he’s asked to speak at a special public screening of a film he directed 30 years ago. Accepting the offer, Salva reaches out to Alberto (Asier Etxeandia), an actor with whom he hasn’t spoken in decades. They rekindle their friendship with a shared need to create something — and by smoking heroine.

  • Sony Pictures Classics

The request to revisit his old film awakens memories of Salva’s childhood, which are depicted through flashbacks where he interacts with his adoring mother Jacinta (Penélope Cruz), who only wants the best for her son despite the family’s poverty. As young Salva grows, he begins to examine his own sexuality when he starts tutoring a young man in their home.

Almodóvar’s reflection on the passage of time between Salva as a boy and as an older man feels authentic as he operates with affection during both stages of the character’s life. As adult Salva, Banderas delivers his best performance since starring in another Almodóvar film, 2011’s The Skin I Live In. In Pain & Glory, he plays a man who is physically and emotionally debilitated and does so with an ease and intimacy that matches Almodóvar’s usual approach.

With the exception of his 2013 comedy misfire I’m So Excited!, one would be hard-pressed to point to an Almodóvar film that hasn’t lived up to the auteur’s artistic ambition and unique expression. Pain & Glory is a beautifully realized picture in a remarkable body of work that continues to inspire.

Six thousand miles east of Spain, Korean co-writer and director Bong Joon Ho (Snowpiercer) isn’t executing things as delicately in Parasite, a meticulously crafted, satirical thriller that proves to be Ho’s most thematically rich project to date.

The film follows the Kims, a poor family of four scraping by on the money they earn doing menial jobs like folding cardboard pizza boxes for a local restaurant. Father Ki-taek (Kang-ho Song), mother Chung-sook (Hye-jin Jang) and their adult children, son Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi) and daughter Ki-jung (So-dam Park), live together in a basement apartment where they feel trapped like rats. Even so, the family refuses to accept its place on the lowest rung of society.

  • Neon

When Ki-woo’s friend gets him a job as a tutor for the teenage daughter of the affluent yet naïve Park family, the Kims see an opportunity to turn around their economic situation by cooking up a plan to get each member of their family on the Park’s payroll. Soon, Ki-woo’s sister is hired as an art tutor, their father as a chauffeur and their mother as the new housekeeper.

While the deceit is played for fun and to depict the Kim family’s street smarts, a story twist shifts the film’s tone seamlessly from an entertaining, smartly written caper into an intense and unpredictable potboiler that speaks to the widening gap separating the haves and the have-nots. Ho and co-writer Han Jin Won have created a chaotic masterpiece.

Pain & Glory opens exclusively at the Santikos Bijou Cinema Bistro November 8. Parasite opens exclusively at the Alamo Drafthouse Park North November 7.

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