A stage shot from Dolor y gloria, © El Deseo. Photo by Manolo Pavón
Our visual memory does not consist solely of scenes, faces or objects; images that are more or less reliable and defined. There are also vague recollections that influence our aesthetic tastes from our early years, or the habit of noticing certain details rather than others, and it seems impossible to recall them: only through the impact that they have, that is, the repetitive patterns of our actions, can we assume that they exist.
It is extremely difficult to find an original way to convey these recollections in a film, but Pedro Almodóvar, in his latest film Dolor y gloria, found a way to do this with the recurring use of white and red. The two colours re-appear practically in every frame, in scenes set in the present as well as the past but with no fixed meaning, attaching themselves at each turn to different characters and changing atmospheres. The play of white and red is the thread that somehow holds together the elusive material that forms someone's life; especially the life of the lead character.
The two colours re-appear practically in every frame, in scenes set in the present as well as the past but with no fixed meaning, attaching themselves at each turn to different characters and changing atmospheres.
The Italian trailer for Dolor y gloria
In Dolor y gloria, Antonio Banderas – who won a Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival for his role – plays Salvador Mallo, a fifty year old film director afflicted with various ailments and chronic illnesses, who has a successful career, but hasn't manage to make a film for a number of years. The title seems like the introduction to a heroic story of extreme contrasts; in reality, the pain is dull and the glory over: Salvador's early ageing seems to muffle everything, and not even the turning points in the story of his life are presented as dramatic turns of events.
White and red is the poster of his first film, Sabor (“flavour”), which depicts a strawberry in the shape of a tongue between two huge lips. Whites and reds are the colours he plays around with in the scenes in the film he will shoot about his own childhood, El primer deseo (“the first wish”). White and red are also the colours that the actor Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandía) chooses to stage his monologue about Salvador's autobiography, Addiction. In other words, white and red are the colours that Salvador uses to convey himself to others, and are also the colours with which others see and represent him.
Even Salvador's apartment - he is a tasteful collector - is full of red and white design and works of art. Their colours, however, are muffled by the semi-darkness in which he is forced to live as light bothers him. We get a very clear idea of this in the scene where Salvador once again meets Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia), the love of his life in his youth: different shades of red colour the armchairs where they are seated, the furniture, ornaments and lamps behind them, Federico's suit and the large painting on the wall at the end of the room.
Salvador meeting Federico
If Salvador lives "in a grotto" in the present day, in the sense that he lives in the dark, we know that as a child he really did live in a grotto, in Paterna, near Valencia; the only place his parents could afford in the 1960s when migrating within Spain. Salvador lived his life in that lime washed grotto - or at least that's how he likes to remember it as an adult - all under a single source of natural light. One of the last scenes, that recounts a memory which is decisive for the structure of the film, sees young Salvador seated at home reading; the light exalts the red of his T-shirt and that of the geraniums, and the young Eduardo (César Vicente) is so struck by the image that he wants to draw it, with the makeshift means he has available. His drawing will provide Salvador with a form of emotions that seemed to be missing in his life and will be the inspiration for his next film.
Eduardo sketches young Salvador