Man on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

Dolor y Gloria – Pain and Glory

Antonio Banderas. Dolor y Gloria, 2019.

With his latest film “Dolor y Gloria” (Pain & Glory), Pedro Almodovar* has given us the most personal and restrained film of his career.  But don’t let that fool you.  Almodovar is a master of self reference, and he expertly weaves this nonlinear story within a story, a memory within a memory, the film within the film, leaving me wanting more. Like the reviewer in The Guardian, I felt that “this movie was running so smoothly and so seductively that it could have gone on for another five hours.”

Largely autobiographical, the story centers around Salvador, a film director (played by Antonio Banderas) in the autumn of his life, who is facing a creative block born out of profound emotional and physical pain.  Antonio Banderas has never been better.  While he plays a passive character at the bottom of a well of depression, he is so present and allows deep emotions to boil just below the surface.  And this being an Almodovar film, there are moments that are really funny, especially when Salvador is persuaded to attend a Q&A of one of his classic films (a meta moment as we were also there to hear a Q&A with Almodovar after the screening).

Pedro Almodovar and Kenneth Lonergan in conversation at the DGA Theater. Credit: Busy K.

At a recent Q&A hosted by the DGA, Almodovar discussed the film in conversation with Kenneth Lonergan.  And like the film, I could have listened to him talk about his process for five hours more.

On his writing process:

It was impossible to write the script right away.  I wrote three small set pieces as exercises with no intention of doing anything with them.  Some of the pieces had been with me for years before they found the right  place for the character.  One was a short which I wrote about 15-20 years ago about an encounter with an old actor and painful memories from the 1980s that were conjured from that meeting.  Another I wrote after I had back surgery, and I was dealing with a lot of pain.  I used to go to the pool because it was the only time I wasn’t in pain.  I asked someone to take a picture, and the image was so interesting, I decided to write about it.  Another piece was a memory from my childhood, one of my happiest with the women  gossiping and singing by the river washing clothes. 

I didn’t want to write something about myself, but when I discovered that I could combine these memories, that was the key. And the script came quite fast after that.  Of course I had to change many things in the three pieces for them to fit together.  My greatest desire was to make the transitions seamless, that all these different pieces flow as water in a river.

Dolor y Gloria, 2019.

On the generosity of the characters and their willingness to engage with each other:

In this case, these are characters who know each other already, but that is also the spontaneity of the Spanish culture.  This is also the way that I write.  I don’t behave this way in my real life.

On his aesthetic model:

I don’t think about it while I’m writing.  The colors I use are colors that I like to see – bright and strong.  They are the technicolor films of my childhood that influenced me. Since the very beginning, I work as a painter but with 3D objects.  I put the colors in the clothes, the set, the furniture.  I put a range of colors in front of my DP.  I’m a nightmare because when I ask for a chair, I want to see many different chairs.  The details are the most important. Each book on the bookshelf is chosen by me because I feel more secure when everything matches the character.  There are DVDS and books on the shelf that you’ll never see on camera, but I feel better knowing that they are there.

Antonio Banderas. Dolor y Gloria, 2019.

On Antonio Banderas:

He was the first person I thought of even though he is the opposite of the character.  I saw a photo of Antonio after his heart attack. I saw pain in his face that I hadn’t seen before, and I knew he could play this role.  I said “don’t hide the pain or what it provokes. Use it.”  Films are mysterious because they reveal unpredictable things, and the way Antonio reacted to parts of the script was remarkable.  His emotions after his heart attack are more distinct now than before, which I didn’t expect.  He’s more emotional now.

Asier Etxeandia and Antonio Banderas in Dolor y Gloria, 2019.

On continuing to be surprised after making 21 films:

You hope to never repeat yourself.  By my third movie, I had fallen in love with the language of film.  A movie is always a surprise and a big adventure.  I knew early on that my style was recognizable.  I need to have the feeling that the story is something new.  I never have the impression that I know it’s going to work or it’s going to be good.  Uncertainty is a word that defines me.  You never know how the actors are going to react to the script.  It fills me with doubt but it is also exciting.


*I have been a huge fan of Almodovar since Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, which was released in 1988, the same year that I spent abroad in Spain.  He captured the colors and culture of Madrid as well as the spirit of the larger than life friends that I made that influential summer. I will always be drawn to his films.

Pedro Almodovar. DGA Theater. Credit: Marcella Steingart.

1 comment
  1. Ricky OKane said:

    Good one!!

    Sent from my iPhone


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