Movie Review: Pedro Almadóvar’s Pain and Glory (Dolor y Gloria)

P&GposterAt 6:30 a.m. on the Friday after Christmas, I found myself fully inserted into a large MRI tube. For 45 minutes I had to remain completely still while an icy course of “tracer” pulsed through my veins and a cacophonous symphony of beeps, clanks and rumblings sneaked through the noise-reducing headphones that were provided.  Forty-five minutes in odd isolation gives you a lot of time to think…about pretty much everything, but certainly about one’s own mortality, about creativity and about finishing the work that one has started.

I don’t know if I am unconsciously seeking out these type of things/thoughts or that I am just noticing them more and more. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a Rodney Crowell song titled “It Ain’t Over Yet” which deals with not giving up despite what age and time and others might tell you. I’ve played that song at two separate gigs since then. Today I finally saw a film that I had been wanting to see since it came out a month ago: Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory.


Antonio Banderas as Salvador Mallo in Pain and Glory

Almodóvar’s film deals also with the subject of mortality. (Though a two-hour film can certainly uncover many more layers than can ever be exposed in a four-minute song.) The protagonist, Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) is a film-director/screenwriter beset by pains and various medical conditions who has completely stopped working and who–when not self-medicating–slips into fond memories of his past, memories triggered by the slightest moments of the present.  There are memories of his mother, of his early home, of his childhood. And, at the moment, he feels that they are all he has.

Yet his film career is now the subject of art house retrospectives and a memoir piece is currently being staged by an old colleague/nemesis. But he has stopped working. There is nothing new.

He has a wonderful, solicitous secretary (Nora Navas) who continues to answer the many requests for interviews, conferences, etc–always with a “no” response. She is also charged with taxiing him to doctors and hospitals.  (A wonderful throw-away line is when he asks why he is so popular in Iceland, after the umpteenth Icelandic request for him to visit.)

I have loved Almodóvar’s films since I was quite young. And if asked what it is about all of them that I remember, I might say–beside the passionate storytelling–the color. His eye for color is startling. There are many vivid reds and electric blues–Mallo’s apartment is a designer’s dream–and even the white-washed caves that the young boy and his mother (Penelope Cruz) live in pop off the screen in memorable brilliance.


Young Mallo (Asier Flores) and his mother (Penelope Cruz) in the cave where they live (before the white washing).

There has been much written about how Pain and Glory is Pedro Almodóvar’s most personal film. And that is easily understood. But since I am often teased for being a “spoiler” in any posts that I write about movies and books, I will do my best to restrain myself here. However, I will say that whatever Pedro Almodóvar is thinking, he should listen to Rodney Crowell’s song “It Ain’t Over Yet.”

Because this film is wonderful.

Quote 45: “The bowler hat was a motif in the musical composition … .”

Sabina's Bowler illustration 2015 by jpbohannon

Sabina’s Bowler
illustration 2015 by jpbohannon

The bowler hat was a motif in the musical composition that was Sabina’s life. It returned again and again, each time with a different meaning, and all the meanings flowed through the bowler hat like water through a riverbed. … each time the same object would give rise to a new meaning, though all former meanings would resonate (like an echo, like a parade of echoes) together with the new one.

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Quote of the Week #18: August 18, 2013

Iconic photo of Patti Smith by Robert Maplethorpe

Iconic photo of Patti Smith
by Robert Maplethorpe

“Build a good name. Keep your name clean. Don’t make compromises, don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful — be concerned with doing good work and make the right choices and protect your work. And if you build a good name, eventually, that name will be its own currency.”

Patti Smith (remembering advice she got from William S. Burroughs)

“Likes…and Dislikes”: something to think about

I’ve been reading a lot of Susan Sontag lately: her journals, her book Illness as Metaphor, and a slew of blog posts. One of these excerpted a journal entry in which Sontag not only analyzed why we humans like lists but that produced a list of her own likes and dislikes. Essentially, she was standing up for or against particular aspects of modern life. Most of us “jot down” lists, but this is probably the wrong phrase for this activity, because thinking about what one actually likes and dislikes is a more difficult thing to do than I first imagined, more involved than mere jotting. I know, because I tried.

2013 jpbohannon

© 2013 jpbohannon

At first I worried that making such a list bordered on the narcissistic. Who really cares what a person likes or dislikes? Do we make conscious decisions with any of this knowledge about other people? I doubt it, particularly in our day to day interactions.

But making such a list could be enlightening, for oneself. No one else needs to know. Sit down and think about the world and what you actually enjoy and what you find annoying, painful, sad.

However, if created lightly, without much thought, this list ends up sounding like the profile of some air-headed celebrity: “I like moonlit walks on the beach…, etc.” A far cry from the list Sontag created.

And to put any such a list out there is a bit risky…and again a bit self-involved.

I spent a good bit of time thinking about what I like–which writers and musicians, what art forms and what cities, what quirks of my own and what indulgences, what parts of everyday life and what special dreams. It was harder thinking of those things I didn’t like–the things I find annoying seemed petty when put on paper, seemed like too much kvetching, and was beginning to be forced.

So I put my list together and I worked hard at it and I decided it didn’t need posting, after all. It was good enough for me: “the examined life and all that.” Hah!

Quote of the week: #2, May 6, 2013

“…The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.” — Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. A Man Without a Country, 2005

Kurt Vonnegut, 1922-2007. 2013 jpbohannon

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., 1922-2007
illustration by jpbohannon © 2013