Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5.
Original title: Dolor y Gloria
Fifteen years after the dazzling Bad Education touched on aspects of the auteur’s youth, Pedro Almodovar reconfigures that film as an examination of his present-day ailments and their effect on his memories of childhood. , once the director’s frequent muse and now his amanuensis, plays an Almodovar-esque filmmaker (complete with spiky hair) who has reached his sixties saddled with a pile of physical and mental health problems that amount to enough pain to keep him from working. Reuniting with an actor from his past ( with whom he had broken ties thirty years earlier, Banderas takes up heroin as a way to self-medicate, which puts him in a state to flash back to scenes from his childhood involving his concerned and harried mother (played, with her usual tired perfection, by Penelope Cruz). When he finally decides to pursue proper medical intervention for his woes, he can then process his feelings about that familial relationship and reach for a peaceful resolution that mirrors a state of grace about his physical being. Watching Almodovar’s films become increasingly elegant and precise has been one of the great pleasures of following his career, here he strips away a great deal of the melodramatic juiciness of films like All About My Mother and lays his concerns bare, or at least as bare as this perpetually creative director can: there are still elements that play with time and reality that he cannot help but indulge himself in, and because he does them well, they contribute to the emotional resonance of the experience instead of distracting from it. Unforgettable images addend a poignant and affecting story (he’s the only person who can make a CAT scan look so beautiful without augmenting its reality in any significant way) and places us in the reality of his mindset instead of creating something artificial, and the intimacy with which the actors perform all their scenes solidifies the sympathy we feel for all the characters. Banderas is particularly masterful in the lead, giving an absorbing and bewitching performance that allows the director to celebrate, criticize and forgive himself all at once without it coming across as an indulgence, it’s more Intervista than 8 1/2 and it’s his best film in years.