Further to Alicia Bedoya’s review of Dolor y gloria in our June edition, BAS editor Robin Wallis reflects on what the film tells us about Almodóvar.
Students of Almodóvar will find in Dolor y gloria an answer to the question that has dogged his aficionados for the past decade: why did he stop producing masterpieces?
At one level, Dolor y gloria answers this by being (to judge from the critical reception) the closest to a masterpiece that the director has produced since Volver in 2006.
Dolor y gloria provides an additional answer in its narrative, in which its director-protagonist is shown at a creative dead-end because of assorted physical ailments, mixed in with drug abuse and relationship problems.
The film’s protagonist Salvador Mallo is not Pedro Almodóvar. But scriptwriter/director Almodóvar has made Mallo in his own image, and imbued him with many aspects of his own life story – among them the physical ailments of recent years (brought to life in the most visually striking sequence of the film).
The autoficción element of the script is dealt with head on when, with delightful irony, Mallo’s elderly mother takes him aback with a dismissive remark about la autoficción. It is also addressed implicitly in the closing shot (spoiler alert rest of this paragraph), when we discover that the scenes played out between Mallo in his childhood and his mother are in fact part of a film that Mallo is now directing – thereby subverting the notion that they are representations of Almodóvar’s own childhood.
Almodóvar debunked an autobiographical reading of this film in his press interviews around its launch. His comments were reminiscent of Vargas Llosa’s prologue to La tía Julia y el escribidor, which refers to the use of a collage autobiográfico for the plot, and concludes that el género novelesco no ha nacido para contar verdades, que éstas, al pasar a la ficción, se vuelven siempre mentiras.
For novelesco read cinematográfico and we find Almodóvar taking a similar approach. However, unlike Vargas Llosa with La tía Julia…, in Dolor y gloria Almodóvar is approaching the end of his career: there is a sense of him unburdening himself of issues not fully tackled in his previous work (not least his sexuality).
The UK launch involved the most high-profile publicity for any Almodóvar work of this decade. He was interviewed (picturesquely flanked by Banderas and Cruz) in slots of up to 5 minutes on prime-time BBC and ITV news programmes – an accolade that no other artist in any Pre-U syllabus is likely to be accorded. His devotos will feel that their faith has been justified by such gloria, despite the dolor of the long wait.