A melancholic but playful tale of an ageing film director reflecting on the decisions of his past, Dolor y Gloria is the latest feature from Pedro Almodovar and it feels as his most personal yet. Colourful and charming whilst reflective and gentle, Dolor y Gloria stands out from Almodovar’s previous work as his most human to date, which is really saying something for a very worthy and celebrated artist.
Pedro Almodovar has had one of the most expansive and interesting directorial careers of the modern era. Coming out of the New Wave Punk movement in Spain after the Francisco Franco regime ended, Almodovar’s films have always pushed the boundaries about as far as they can go in film. His latest Dolor y Gloria is more subdued tale of an ageing film director, who, whilst reflecting on his own life, begins to connect the dots of the narrative of his existence. The film bursts with exciting artistic style, beautiful colour schemes and exquisitely written dialogue all brought under the banner of one of cinema’s most unique and consistent filmmakers.
Dolor y Gloria centres around ageing director Salvador Mallo, who, after around 40 years in the business, has decided to retire from filmmaking due to physical aliments, mostly with regards to his back. During his retirement, Mallo receives an invitation to a Q&A session for a film he directed 35 years prior. Mallo decides to reach out to the lead actor, with whom he has not spoken since the premier of the film, to share the Q&A session panel between them, setting in motion of chain of events that remind Mallo of his own personal journey through life and what drew him to the art in the first place.
The film deals with the theme of the existential narrative of life, and how one can track that narrative through their own creative processes. The film is a celebration of those who live their life through art, whether it be their own or others. The creative process gives an understanding to who we are as beings, both physical and spiritual and few stories have ever grasped this so gently and exquisitely as Dolor y Gloria does. Mallo’s story is one of personal acceptance and reflection, quietly and subtly delivered.
Antonio Banderas gives one of the outstanding performances of his career, as he often has when performing under Almodovar. His slow transition from self induced apathy and self-pity to hopeful re-invigoration is gently eased out of the character with an emotional drive that is impossible to resist. By the end of the film, I felt like I knew Mallo as well as he knew himself and that is a rare and wonderful treat. Asier Etxeandia also gives an emotionally powerful performance as Alberto Crespo, the estranged best friend of Mallo with a heroin addiction. The chemistry between the two is electric and their friendship is easily believed and lived throughout the film.
In fact, it is worth mentioning that every performance in this film is of the highest calibre, and the credit for that not only goes to the actors, but to their director. Throughout his career, Almodovar has worked with all kinds of artists to create his films. From actors to dancers to musicians to painters, his ability to bring everyone under one banner, working so seamlessly with one another to tell stories of such emotional levity whilst also being utterly believable and relatable is an incredible talent, and a testament to his prowess as an artist.
Almodovar stamps his usual colourful and extravagant visual style on Dolor y Gloria with long term cinematographer Jose Luis Alcaine, with whom he has worked on multiple other films. The film explodes with bright colours and excessive style constantly, with much of the most dramatic moments throughout, told through the colours on the screen. Almodovar’s worlds are often bursting with life and psychedelic influence and Dolor y Gloria is no different. From the costume design, to the set design to the composition and framing, colour is a huge part of the visual narrative of Dolor y Gloria as it often is with Almodovar’s work.
Alberto Iglesias, also a long term collaborator with Almodovar, composes a soundtrack that is both playful and mature. Often leading the characters from their most emotional moments right into their most mischievous and childish, the balance drawn is excellent. There is never a dull moment in Dolor y Gloria and that comes down to the consistently excellent soundtrack and the tight editing of Teresa Font, who keeps the action moving even during the most melancholic and reflective moments.
Any creative soul should fall in love with Dolor y Gloria and those new to Almodovar’s melodramatic and playful style will find this film to be a wonderful starting point. Few director’s in history fully embrace film as a multi-faceted media in the same way Almodovar does which gives him a wonderfully unique take on the art form. Dolor y Gloria is essentially a film about life. How one’s actions can come back to haunt or help, and how the creative process can not only help us to understand ourselves, but also to understand each other.
Written by Alfie Smith
All images courtesy of Sony Pictures