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"La dolorosa" is historically important for several reasons. First, it is the only film entirely directed by Grémillon in Spanish - "Centinela Alerta" from two years later was a joint effort with Luis Buñuel. Second, it was the very first zarzuela (popular Spanish opera) to be filmed as a 'talkie'. Third, it made, in the hotbed years immediately before the Civil War, a remarkably daring comment on religious and social intolerance. Religious feeling, it implies, is in essence little more than sexual sublimation.
Artistically, its power is hardly diminished by the years. Of course it helps if you are sympathetic to music drama, as the final section uses the climactic duet (between the disappointed-lover-turned-priest and his 'fallen', unfaithful fiancée Dolores) from Serrano's masterly zarzuela score to maximum emotional effect. Indeed much of the film is at least underscored by his music, plus additional cues by the conductor/arranger Daniel Montorio. It is compelling music, given sensitive and occasionally stunning visual counterpoint by Grémillon.
One sequence in particular, as Dolores stumbles through the rocky hillside to seek sanctuary in the monastery, packs an extremely powerful punch. The musical counterpoint (a song made famous latterly by Placido Domingo, in which the artist-monk-lover describes a painting he has made of the Virgin Dolorosa) gradually fuses with the cinematography, culminating in a vision of the cross in which the luckless Dolores finally *becomes* the Virgin, Mother of God. This is stunning cinema.
Rosita Díaz Gimeno's cool, classical beauty adds to the effect, and her performance as the Rich Girl Gone Wrong, who then finds herself spurned even by the lowest of the low, is one of understated dignity. Agustín Godoy as the lover-turned-monk is passionate, confused and touching by turns, and there is a warmly sympathetic portrayal of the Monastery's Prior by Luis Moreno - like Buñuel, Grémillon is careful not to condemn the man whilst questioning the faith.
The comedy sub-plot reflects the main plot neatly (this is taken directly from the zarzuela, of course, and is not Grémillon's invention) and the Spanish peasant characters are neither guyed nor glorified.
If you like good film and good music, "La dolorosa" needs no special pleading. An impressive, moving and rich masterpiece.
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