Almodovar delivers moving tribute to cinema and love with “Dolor y gloria”

Coming out this Friday

And here’s 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 El Deseo jefe. “Broken embraces,” “La Piel que lo habito” were colorful, if shoddily-written films that lacked substance and felt saturated with fabricated emotions. Those were films, I could but only deduce, made by a filmmaker in existential decline. But with “Dolor y Gloria,” the portrait of a lonely man, Almodovar is back, and he’s making cinema that is big and mighty and sexy.

Antonio Banderas, in one of his most attaching 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 sort of state for years. Until, that is, 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 various 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, perhaps, feeling when he wrote the script for “Dolor y Gloria”: he’s keen on showing how, and what, an artist can suffer, but never devolves into inflated melodrama.