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 boss. “Broken embraces” and “La Piel que lo habito” were colorful, if shoddily-written, films that lacked substance and felt saturated with false emotion. Those were films, I could but only deduce, made by a filmmaker in professional 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.
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 medicated autopilot mode for years. Until, that is, the local cinémathèque asks him to host an event around the release of the restored version of his thirty-two year-old classic “Sabor.”
That invitation sets various events in motion. Salvador sees old friends and enemies again, picks up a heroin habit and recalls his childhood in a series of flashbacks in which he and his mother (Penélope Cruz) move into a new 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 of the dialogues are quote-worthy: “a good actor is not one who cries, but one who keeps his tears down,” Salvador says. Those words tell 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 lets the film devolve into inflated melodrama.