Pedro Almodóvar returns in all his Pain and Glory

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      Starring Antonio Banderas. Rated PG

      Pedro Almodóvar sums up many of his strongest themes in Pain and Glory, an autumnal look back at a career that arrived kicking and screaming and, even at this introspective stage, still has room to move.

      Frequent collaborator Antonio Banderas plays Salvador Mallo, a popular Spanish film director struggling with a creative and personal dry spell after the death of his mother. In elaborate flashbacks set in Franco-era rural Spain, she is seen as an uncontainable force of nature played Penélope Cruz. This earthy mama overwhelms the boy, whose incipient sexuality she senses and is frightened by, just as Cruz somehow swamps the movie—especially when it comes time to match her with an older actor playing her character closer to today. (Spoiler alert: it can’t be done.)

      The suave director hasn’t made anything in several years and has become a virtual recluse at his modernist urban villa in Madrid. But something impels him to join his one-time star (Asier Etxeandia, a Viggo Mortensen type) for an event celebrating the restoration of their breakthrough film. Unfortunately, this Alberto Crespo (also the name of a famed race-car driver) introduces him to heroin, and our movie guy’s an easy mark for opiates, having had severe back pain and other physical ailments since childhood.

      What’s most impressive here is the quietly amusing way Banderas conveys both the agony and ecstasy of his situation. (The Spanish title, Dolor y Gloria, has more playful poetry to it.)

      As always, Almodóvar is not about to let dour circumstances get in the way of visual fun. His palette favours cool greens and grays, shot through with slashes of gold and red, probably to suggest the suffocating Catholicism that marked the director’s childhood, and his creative psyche. There are even animated bits, recalling Saul Bass graphics from ’50s movies, as well as many nods to favourite filmmakers.

      P&G is being treated in some circles as Almodóvar’s 8 ½, and indeed the Fellini references are strong; his Salvador still dallies over thoughts of a long-lost love named Federico, but he calls the man Marcello in the tart memoir he’s writing. Of course, you don’t have to decode any of this inside stuff to get real pleasure from this glorious Pain.