Filmmaking is so often self-reflexive as directors and writers investigate what makes us human and connects us all together. In perhaps his most personal film to date, Pedro Almodóvar explores ideas of ageing, the surprising impact people can have on your life and vice versa.
It is the 30 year anniversary of one of director Salvador Mallo’s (Antonio Banderas) films in which he has been asked to attend a Q&A with his lead actor Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia). Having not spoken since their turbulent time on set, the two hit it back off leading to Salvador developing a drug addiction courtesy of his lead actor. The narrative weaves through many different encounters with ghosts of Salvador’s past, shedding light on Salvador’s impact on their future. These encounters are always varied, whether it be past lovers or childhood memories. we are constantly treated to an array of colourful supporting characters and stories in which Salvador is emotionally thrown through the wringer.
Interspersed through Salvador’s modern life in which his health is constantly deteriorating we see glimpses of his childhood in which his mother, Jacinta (Penelope Cruz) does everything she can to help him succeed. From a young age he is shown to be gifted and his mother takes it upon herself to provide for him as best she can. Later on in scenes with his unwell mother, Salvador feels regret that he didn’t appreciate everything that she did for him. It’s these moments when you really see how powerful of an actor Banderas is as he goes from being an incredibly charismatic and comedic being, to showing a childlike innocence.
In a scene in which Salvador and Alberto speak about their latest collaboration, Salvador mentions how there is more power in a performance when an actor is seen holding back the tears. This is true of Antonio Banderas who with this performance picked up the Cannes Best Actor Award and he truly deserved it. Able to look both world-weary but also bright-eyed and youthful, Banderas mixes the comedic and tragic perfectly here. Without such a strong performance from him and his years of collaboration with Almodóvar this easily could have felt like a parody of European film directors but instead is a beautifully realised account of a man looking to express his life in his work.
With a film that is so steeped in the personal life of a director it’s hard to not see this as being a passion project for Almodóvar. His love is seen in the colourful set and costume design as well as a script which is constantly full of surprises. It would do a disservice to talk in detail of these treats as they are wonderfully realised within the film and proved to be some of the most touching moments. The film may seem to start as a film filled with regret and looking at your past but instead finishes within an incredible sense of optimism which is so often missing from films dealing with ageing. Salvador may be facing his own demons and mortality but he is happy to do so now with a renewed sense of vigour.
by Shaun Alexander
Shaun Alexander is a freelance writer and film student based in London. His favourite films include Inside Llewyn Davis, Fish Tank and The Lobster, and he enjoys writing on aspects of toxic masculinity and mental health in film. He has recently realised a love for the genre of “Period Drama Women Behaving Badly” Find Shaun on twitter @salexanderfilm