This semi-autobiographical drama will captivate Almodovar's fans and attract followers of Spain's two biggest film exports, Banderas and Cruz. But it's unlikely to bring the director many new or younger followers. Its natural audience, beyond existing fans, is people of a certain age who are susceptible to themes about aging, lost loves, and nostalgia for the past. Banderas, who won the best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for his work in Pain and Glory, offers a subtle and vulnerable performance. He sports a look and mannerisms that are purposefully reminiscent of Almodovar's, although the director insists the film isn't entirely autobiographical (in interviews, he's talked about some of what was invented, including the heroin use). Cruz, in turn, explodes on screen in a role that may remind audiences of her Oscar-nominated performance in the director's 2006 Volver. Together with rising Spanish star Etxeandia and a memorable, understated scene with Argentina's Sbaraglia, the actors carry the movie, and their on-screen magnetism is impossible to deny.
Fans will enjoy picking out cameos by the director's producer-brother, regular "chicas Almodovar" (Cecilia Roth, Julieta Serrano), and up-and-coming Spanish stars (like pop flamenco artist Rosalía, who sings in an opening scene), as well as spotting omnipresent literary and cinematic references. All this is intentional: Almodovar films blend together, with characters, storylines, scenes, settings, themes, and references mingling throughout his filmography, providing endless fodder for enthusiastic cinema fans and critics. So much repetition can get, well, a little repetitive after 20+ films, yet the director remains a darling of the international circuit, an icon at home in Spain, and a regular presence at Cannes, where Pain and Glory premiered to rave reviews.