Pedro Almodóvar’s intensely personal 21st film is a scrapbook of the director’s memories. Director Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas) is called to revisit one of his early career triumphs. But the new restoration connects him with estranged friends, and shakes loose old memories. We move back and forth between recollections of his mother (Penélope Cruz), his early sexual awakening and his current state of listlessness. Like Julieta, this is a carefully observed film that plays gracefully with time and its effects, with Almodóvar’s usual warmth and sensuousness.
If this is a self-portrait of the director, it’s one lacking in vanity, and therefore gaining in depth. Banderas is in sublime form in the role that earned him Cannes’s best actor award, able to encompass the story’s turns from romantic pathos to cheeky self-indulgence. Like Fellini’s 8½, this is the story of a director turning inward, questioning their choices yet also confirming their talents.