All Is Art. All Is Life.

Film review: Dolor y Gloria (Director: Pedro Almodóvar)

By Sascha Krieger

Water. The pale bluish twilight of a swimming pool reveals a scar, real and symbolic, a trace of decades of liefe, loss and suffering. Eyes closed, the scar’s wearer travels back, to a childhood memory, the stagnant pool transformed into a lively river drenched in sunlight, an almost unnatural lightness, a child smiling at his mother and her friends as they wash clothes among the dancing fishes. and sing. As he will, years later, becoming the solo choirboy at his Catholic school, before finding a different voice, that of a writer and film maker, a voice destroyed by pain and regret and self-pity before it re-emerges. Dolor y Gloria is Pedro Almodóvar’s most autobiographical film to date, an homage to the transformative and healing power of art and the necessity for it to correspond with life, in more than one direction. In it, Almodóvar goes back to an old companion, Antonio Banderas. Working together, they launched each other’s careers, now the director trusts his former star with his own alter ego. It’s a perfect choice for a film in which things often come full circle, the present takes up the threads of the past, art fills in the holes of life and coincidence acts as an agent of almost god-like benevolence.

Image: Studiocanal/ El Deseo / Manolo Pavón

Bright colours are never far in the Spaniard’s films and camera genius José Luis Alcaine weaves them again into a mesmerizing fabric in which present and past, reality and imagination, life and art become one, creating a whole that requires all of its parts. The boy has grown up into an old man, Salvador Mallo, a famous director at the end of his creative tether. Suffering from multiple pains and scares and depression, he has settled in that dangerous limbo between inertia, self-pity and regret and is only slowly lured out of it through an invitation to present a restored version of an old film of his. This sets off a stream of re-unions – with his former star actor with who he fell out, the love of his life, addiction and ultimately memories of his childhood, an early revelation of love, his mother. Banderas is breath-taking in his subdued play, entirely void of vanity, imbued with gentle self irony and quiet, touching fragility, a hardly covered open wound, numbed, slowly re-emerging into pain. Wonderful the animated sequence near the beginning when he explains his various illnesses and suffering, tender the humour in  which the pathetic nature of his self-inflicted self pity is revealed without taking away anything from his real pain. Banderas‘ acting, for which he was lauded at Cannes, is balance, subtle, warm and empathetic, an homage to his friend, a mediation on art and a quiet reflection about aging. A revelation.

The star Banderas plays the star Almodóvar, both fictionalized, in an act of art rediscovering life – which is the essence of this film. It is full with small magical scenes and images better to be discovered than described. The pangs of poverty, the discovery and hardship of homosexuality, the growth and doubts of an artist, the mal and large regrets, all that makes life full and impossible to bear at the same time: they all roll into one flowing tale of scenes and people moving in and out and in again, story fragments of healing and re-starts, all depending and leaning on each other. Reality and art begin to be confused, as the paleness of the former approached, the bright, almost unearthly and yet fully present light of the latter, a relation enhanced by the playful final image. Old friends are here, Penelope Cruz, another of Almodóvar’s discoveries, plays his alter egos mother, and ghosts from the past emerge fully fleshed out throughout the story. That moves on. Someone who is at the centre one moment can be relegated to a memory shortly after this.

It is a tale of growth, of love, of forgiveness. And most importantly of life in which everything matters and nothing is more important than the other: childhood, one’s vocation, art, imagination, memories, love, sexual orientation. None of this dominates, they ebb and flow and never disappear. In the end, all is art, and all is life. Connections have been re-established, bridges re-built, holes filled. A glimpsed male body in childhood leads to a final kiss conjuring up things lost decades ago. Things that  are still there, because humans remember, imagine, create. Alberto Iglesias‘ softly emotional music wraps it all up, the past, the present, the individual and the universal. Pedro Almodóvar’s most personal, perhaps even his warmest and lightest, film might well be his best. Because it contains all those before. Revisited with a look full of love and forgiveness.

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