Pain and Glory (Dolor y Gloria)

                Pedro Almodovar is the kind of storyteller who just invites you to wander around with him, as he casually spins his tale at a leisurely, unhurried pace---even his eye candy is langorous-- but afterwards you get the feeling that youíve just witnessed something significant, not just about his life, but also about your own.

                Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) is a once-successful writer and director whoís somewhat gone to seed.  He hasnít written anything in a while, or been asked to direct anything, either.  His beloved mother died four years before.  He only has one real friend, Mercedes (Nora Navas), and that relationship is not only platonic, itís more like mothering.  Heís suffered from a number of old-age aches and ailments:  back trouble, insomnia, difficulty eating, headaches:  enough struggle to virtually make him housebound.  Fortunately for him, heís made enough money to not only have a nice house, but also be able to afford a cook/housekeeper to help take care of him. 

                But Salvador also knows that he isnít that old, and he isnít that infirm.  What he really suffers from is depression, and part of that is suffering over the remorse and regret of a lifetime.   He decides he can do something about one of them:  he travels across Madrid to make amends with his star actor, Alberto (Asier Etxeandia).  Alberto also lives alone, and also looks like heís not aging particularly well, which isnít helped by his heroin habit.  Worse, he gets Salvador to try it.  But he also persuades Salvador to release a new play heís written, because Alberto wants to star in it.  Though he gets clean and sober in preparation, Salvador quickly gets hooked.

                What happens when Salvador indulges is that his mind goes back to happier times, to his childhood.  Though his Dad is not a big factor in his life, his Mom (Penelope Cruz) is the one who not only raises him, but also encourages him.  Salvador is an intelligent lad, and does very well in school, but in their little village, especially in their poverty, he doesnít have the opportunity to receive a good education.  So Salvadorís Mom encourages him to go to the (Catholic) seminary.  Little Salvador protests that he doesnít want to be a priest.  But his Mom suggests that he take the education they give him, and afterwards he can do what he wants.  Salvador ingratiates himself to his teachers by excelling in singing, and they are happy to feature him as the soloist in their boysí choir.

                Salvadorís spirits are raised by the sudden appearance of his lover as a young man, Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia), who happens to be in town to claim an inheritance, though heís long since moved to Buenos Aires.  Federico changed his life completely with the move, he married a young woman and they had two sons who are now grown, though Federico says heís getting a divorce in order to marry another woman.  But that doesnít stop him for demonstrating his lingering affection for Salvador.

                Finally, Salvador finds renewed inspiration in a painting that he stumbled on, of him as a little boy, painted by the handyman that Salvador helped learn to read and write.  How it got to Barcelona in a flea market is anybodyís guess, but somehow, in the finding of the painting, Salvador is inspired to reclaim the nostalgia of his boyhood, even without the drugs.  And with renewed purpose, suddenly his various ailments seem less overwhelming.

                Antonio Banderas makes this character into someone weíd like to share a whiskey with, and maybe have a good conversation about how the past continues to live on in the present. Yes, there are plenty of ups and downs in life, and people who move in and out of our stream of consciousness.  But it is, after all, the only life we have to live, and itís worth all the pain and glory we can accumulate.

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association