CANNES FESTIVAL – Almodovar delivers moving tribute to cinema and love in Palme D’Or-worthy “Dolor y gloria”

This film competes for the Palme D'Or

CANNES, France – This is me breathing a sigh of relief. Almodovar has made another masterpiece, a work of art. “Dolor y Gloria” is sublime! I’d become disillusioned with the work of the El Deseo chief filmmaker. “Broken embraces,” “La Piel que lo habito” were colorful, if shoddily-written films that lacked substance and were saturated with fabricated emotions. Those were films, I deduced, made by a filmmaker in decline. But with “Dolor y Gloria,” the portrait of a lonely man, Almodovar is back making sexy cinema.

Antonio Banderas, in one of his most compelling roles ever (Banderas’s American career sucked the marrow out of his artistic potential with one stupid commercial film after another) plays Salvador Mallo, a (hypochondriac?) filmmaker who struggles so badly with back pains, ringing in the ears, cluster headaches, migraine and depression that he’s been in a weird, medicated autopilot state for a number of years. Until the local cinémathèque asks him to present the restored version of his thirty two year-old classic “Sabor” to the public. That invitation sets in motion an unusual chain of events: Salvador sees old friends and enemies again, picks up a heroin habit (“chasing the dragon”) and recalls his childhood in a series of flashbacks in which he and his mother (Penélope Cruz) move into an apartment with his father.

In a sense “Dolor” is Almodovar’s tribute to Fellini’s “8½,”  his memories are his obsessions. His passion for cinema, his love for his mother, his preference for boys. Some dialogues are beautiful and quote-worthy: “a good actor is not one who cries, but one who keeps his tears down,” Salvador says. Those words say a lot about the melancholy Almodóvar was likely feeling when he wrote the script for “Dolor y Gloria”: he eagerly shows how and what an artist can suffer, but never devolves into inflated melodrama. This is the kind of cinema that you can only make when you have reached a certain age, and when the lost scenes of your childhood suddenly return to your mind with unprecedented sharpness, like the image of his mother doing the wash by the river and singing.

Walking out of the theater in Cannes tonight, I thought:  the stars are aligned. This film could be the Palme D’Or winner. There are five filmmakers on the jury this year, they will all vie, I assume, for Almodovar to win the top prize. And I weigh these words, since we’re not even at the halfway mark and there are scores of probable great movies by great directors awaiting to be watched.