(Winner of the Best Actor Prize to Antonio Banderas and Best Soundtrack Award to Alberto Iglesias at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival) Written and directed by Pedro Almodovar, Dolor y gloria (Pain and Glory) is the story of a filmmaker who reunites with old friends, family, and colleagues as he copes with a declining film career and ailing health. The film is a study of a man as he looks back at events from his life as well as the remaining years of his life. Starring Antonio Banderas, Asier Etxeandia, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Nora Navas, Julieta Serrano, Cecilia Roth, and Penelope Cruz. Dolor y gloria is a majestically-rich and somber film from Pedro Almodovar.
The film revolves around a filmmaker at the twilight of his film career as he is coping with severe back pain as he learned that one of his older films has been restored where he reunites with an actor from that film while reflecting on his childhood. It’s a film that is a look into a man that is dealing with a lot as well as the fact that he is going through writer’s block, regrets, loss, and severe physical pain. Pedro Almodovar’s screenplay explores the life of filmmaker Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) as he receives word that one of his old films had been remastered and restored for a special screening where he bumps into an old friend who gives him the number and address of an actor from that film whom he hadn’t spoken to in more than 30 years. Upon his reunion with Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia), the two discuss the past while Salvador tries heroin for the first time as it forces him to think about his time as a child (Asier Flores) where he and his mother Jacinta (Penelope Cruz) move into a cave house that his father bought.
It is where the young Salvador teaches a young laborer/draughtsman in Eduardo (Cesar Vicente) to read and write while he would later be sent to a school where he would learn a lot about art and cinema. Still, Salvador feels like he hasn’t done enough as it relates to his mother while he is also dealing with the severe physical pain that has him choking often at times where he uses heroin to cope with the pain. Another unlikely reunion in a former lover in Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia) would also force him to realize what is going on as he reflects on the last days with his mother (Julieta Serrano) before her passing while turning to his longtime assistant Mercedes (Nora Navas) for help as she believes something else isn’t right.
Almodovar’s direction does have its flair of style that he’s known for in his compositions yet it opens with Salvador in a pool as he’s underwater as it is this metaphorical image of a man that is believing he’s about to encounter his final days. Shot on location in Madrid as well as the province of Valencia with Paterna being a major location of the film as it plays into the life of the young Salvador. Almodovar’s compositions are largely straightforward yet he knows when to create something that is striking and evocative in a simple shot. Whether it’s in some of the wide shots of the Paterna exteriors or certain locations in Madrid to the more intimate shots at a small theater or Salvador’s apartment home with its medium shots and close-ups. Notably in the way he stages a one-man performance Alberto does where Federico watches as it play into this key moment for Salvador even though he doesn’t watch Alberto’s performance.
Almodovar’s direction would include these somber scenes that revolves around Salvador’s childhood that are presented with an intimacy in the cave home which is claustrophobic at times yet there is also a moment that also play into events that would affect Salvador’s sexuality as well his own sense of nostalgia as an adult. Almodovar would also infuse some voice-over narration from Salvador that includes an animation sequence by Juan Gatti that explores Salvador’s journey as a filmmaker and his fascination with science and geography that would inspire much of Salvador’s work. The film’s third act plays into Salvador’s faults as well as the realization that he’s been shielding himself from his past including his childhood along with his own desperation to rid the physical pain he’s enduring. Overall, Almodovar crafts an intoxicating and touching film about a filmmaker dealing with his past, regrets, and the twilight of his life and career.
Cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine does brilliant work with the film’s lush and colorful cinematography with a naturalistic look for many of the film’s daytime scenes as well as the interior scenes at the cave-house along with some stylish lighting for some of the interior scenes set in Madrid. Editor Teresa Font does excellent work with the editing as it is stylized with its fast-cuts and montages for some parts while also being straightforward for much of the film in playing up the drama. Production designer Antxon Gomez, with set decorator Vicent Diaz and art director Maria Claria Notari, does amazing work with the look of the cave-house as well as Salvador’s apartment with so much attention to detail from his collection of paintings to his bedroom. Costume designer Paola Torres does fantastic work with the colorful clothes that the characters wear including a few stylish suits that Salvador wears to the ragged look of Alberto as well as the dresses the young Jacinta wears.
Makeup designer Ana Lozano does terrific work with the look of the characters from the bearded look of Salvador as well as the look of the older Jacinta. Sound designer Pelayo Gutierrez does superb work with the sound as it play into the atmosphere of some of the locations as well as how music is played on a boom box to maintain that sense of realism. The film’s music by Alberto Iglesias is incredible for its lush and rapturous orchestral score that play into some of the film’s melodrama as well as the air of nostalgia for the past as it is a major highlight of the film with a soundtrack that features folk and pop music of the time period that the characters live in.
The casting by Eva Leira and Yolanda Serrano is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from producer Augustin Almodovar as a priest, Luis Calero as the music teacher for young Salvador, the trio of Marisol Muriel, Paqui Horcajo, and the Spanish pop singer Rosalia as women washing clothes with the young Jacinta early in the film, Pedro Casablanc as Dr. Galindo who expresses concerns for Salvador’s health, Julian Lopez as a movie theater presenter wanting to interview Salvador and Alberto, Susi Sanchez as a family friend of Jacinta in Beata, Sara Sierra as a young village woman in Conchita, Raul Arevalo as Salvador’s father Venancio, and Cecilia Roth in a terrific one-scene performance as an old friend of Salvador in Zulema who gives him Alberto’s address.
Cesar Vicente is superb as a young laborer/painter in Eduardo whom the young Salvador teaches to read and writer as he is proven to be a gifted painter that helps the young Salvador and young Jacinta. Asier Flores is fantastic as the young Salvador as a young boy who is fascinated by cinema and books while is unsure about going to this prestigious school fearing he would never see his family again. Nora Navas is excellent as Salvador’s personal assistant Mercedes as a woman who is aware of Salvador’s ailing health and growing depression as she does what she can to help him but also aware of what is the cause of his physical pain. Penelope Cruz and Julieta Serrano are amazing in their respective performances as the younger and older versions of Salvador’s mother Jacinta with Cruz providing this sense of warmth expected in a maternal role but also frustrations over her new living situation and what her son wants. Serrano’s performance as the older version of Jacinta is more restrained as a woman just frustrated that she is on her way out as she also laments over Salvador’s choices in life and in his career while maintaining that maternal warmth.
Leonardo Sbaraglia is brilliant as an old lover of Salvador in Federico as a man from Salvador’s past who makes a brief visit to Madrid from Buenos Aires as he watches Alberto’s one-man show that prompts him to visit Salvador where they reminisce the past. Asier Etxeandia is incredible as Alberto Crespo as an actor who worked with Salvador in their greatest collaboration together as he hadn’t seen Alberto in more than 30 years where they re-establish their friendship and talk about past issues Etxeandia provides a charisma and charm to a man that is an admitted heroin addict but also a man of control. Finally, there’s Antonio Banderas in a tremendous performance as Salvador Mallo as a once-revered filmmaker who is at the twilight of his career as he deals with immense physical and emotional pain as he thinks about his past as well as the idea that he might not have much time left. Banderas also provides this physicality in the way he struggles in getting out of a car or to express the physical pain he’s in as it is this performance full of restraint and dark humor as he showcases a man struggling with himself as well as trying to find some hope in the end as it is a performance for the ages.
Dolor y gloria is a magnificent film from Pedro Almodovar featuring a phenomenal leading performance from Antonio Banderas. Along with its ensemble supporting cast, ravishing visuals, somber themes of nostalgia and uncertainty, and a luscious music score by Alberto Iglesias. The film isn’t just this fascinating story of an artist dealing with the possible end of his life and career but also reflecting on his roots and the events that shaped his life. In the end, Dolor y gloria is an outstanding film from Pedro Almodovar.
Pedro Almodovar Films: Pepi, Luci, Bom - Labyrinth of Passion - Dark Habits - What Have I Done to Deserve This? - Matador - Law of Desire - Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown - Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! - High Heels - Kika - The Flower of My Secret - Live Flesh - All About My Mother - Talk to Her - Bad Education - Volver - Broken Embraces - The Skin I Live In - I'm So Excited! - Julieta - (The Human Voice (2020 short film)) – (Parallel Mothers)
The Auteurs #37: Pedro Almodovar: Pt. 1 Pt. 2
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