In this #intothecuttingroom Lorna May discusses the film Dolor y Gloria (2019) by the renowned director Pedro Almodóvar. In her usual inimitable style she dissects this drama whihc evidently saw Antonio Banderas win best actor at the Cannes Film Festival. Incidentally, if you feel like listening to this piece, please click on the link below.
Almodóvar’s latest film presentation Dolor y Gloria (Pain and Glory) at the Cannes Film Festival got me feeling. And I don’t say that it got me thinking, because that’s a prerogative of more conceptual filmmakers. His cinema transcends any kind of mental masturbation, or pseudo-intellectualism-it’s a cinema of the stomach.
His story-telling is dramatic in the most traditional way. It is in fact, this visceral love for drama, that brings this mythological tragic quality to his vision.
Perhaps, his most important picture. Although its importance is not relevant as a film on its own, but mostly, as part of a deeply emotional cinematic journey. Because it is, in a way, a director’s semi-final cut (it’s a fantasy on what a last film/cinematic testament could be) from a filmmaker who’s never been afraid to put his soul in the limelight.
Pain and Glory. Everything is in the title. It could have been “The Pain of the Glory” for example. This is not a random choice of words. Almodóvar wants to separate the two as very individual entities. Almost look at those very strong emotions as two different people in love that can’t thrive without the other. Underlining of the importance of Self. That’s the keyword, because the director is all about self, hence the depiction of a very personal experience of human existence.
We follow Salvador (played by a transcending Antonio Banderas – who said in an interview that he had to kill himself in order to play this role), who’s Almodóvar’s alter-ego. Banderas is for Almodóvar what Mastroianni was for Fellini. An aging, successful filmmaker, tormented by physical and emotional pain. He lives alone in his fancy apartment, a metaphorical museum of past glories relics (many artworks are hanging on the walls), as he deals with his present and past choices during his darkest hour.
Wrongly discussed as an auto-biographical piece, Dolor y Gloria is a self-fictional movie. It’s almost like reading someone’s diary while it’s being written. In this extremely personal fictitious memoir, Almodóvar expresses frustration with aging and loneliness, but also the appreciation for the path that he’s had the privilege to make for himself, and the people who are important to him.
In this mature portrait of artistic crisis, Almodóvar beautifully states that it doesn’t matter what’s real or not. When writing, the first thing you want to succeed in portraying, is the truth, but as you go on, fiction takes over. It always does.
When we write, we must be faithful to fiction, not to reality.
As years go by, Almodóvar doesn’t collect memories, but images. Everything becomes a visual impression soaked in emotional intelligence, collecting pictures of a fantastic personal reality that one day, will inevitably be translated into cinema.
The themes of this film are all connected to each other. Like mythological gods having human-like relationships between one another, pulling the strings of human suffering.
CREATION in the most visceral sense. From childbirth to the relationship not necessarily lyrical between child and mother. A recurrent theme in Almodóvar’s movies. One that inevitably leads to the big existential questions of mankind. Questions that will be resumed in the creation of art. A different kind of childbirth.
Banderas’ character, Salvador, is suffering from what is commonly known as writer’s block. His anxiety is not being able to write again, but rather, the inability of finding the necessary desire needed as fuel. This desire that has been somewhat sucked into the vortex of DEPRESSION. Depression which is partly fed by the cruelty of experiencing ALIENATION as a child, that with time, translates into a permanent feeling of abandonment, and the SOLITUDE that inevitably comes with it.
ADDICTION. That tricky thing that suggests freedom of the mind. Once the mask’s off it reveals to be a prison. Substance abuse in the most literal sense, but also in a more philosophical one. The addiction to cinema. The addiction of beauty.
RECONCILIATION. Spaces that have been left open, like wounds, and that need closure. As Almodóvar puts it, “when you lose someone it’s like losing an arm”.
The fears that come with AGING. The physical deterioration that hinders creation. The body machine and its majestic labyrinths. It continually reminds us about our time on Earth.
PAIN and GLORY, of course. Physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual pain. Glorious pain. Something you can’t escape from, because it is the very thing that makes us human. Because glory doesn’t exist without it. Glory, that wonderful fleeting thing that takes many shapes. The shape of money, evidently. The shape of professional accomplishment surely, but most importantly, the shape of desire.
EL DESEO (DESIRE) is the name of the Almodóvar’s brothers’ production company, and finally, the real theme of Dolor y Gloria. Its etymology comes from the Latin “desiderare” that literally means ‘lack of stars’. Maybe that’s why we’ve always wished upon a star…
In front of desire, we’re all the same. Desire is the very essence of men, the original sin, the start of creation. The very thing that makes things move forward. What makes us create, lust, love or simply put, live.