TajLV’s review published on Letterboxd:
"Alberto, gossip ages, like people." ~ Salvador Mallo
Writer-director Pedro Almodóvar follows up his acclaimed "Julieta" (2016) with a drama involving a famous but fading Spanish filmmaker, Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas). Much of the story is delivered in flashbacks, as Salvador attempts to make peace with the ghosts of his past, including heroin-using actor Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia). The triggering event for Salvador's memory trips is the restoration of his acclaimed 30-year-old film "Flavor," starring Alberto.
Several of Salvador's memories hark back to his childhood, moving to the village of Paterna in the 1960s with his father Venancio (Raúl Arévalo) and mother Jacinta (Penelope Cruz). They lived in a "cave house" underground, where young Sal taught an adult neighbor, the artistic laborer Eduardo (César Vicente), how to read and write. He also remembers his aged mother (Julieta Serrano) toward the end of her life, berating him for not being a good son.
Racked with back pain, migraines and a variety of other ailments, Salvador begins using heroin himself. His spiral into addiction mirrors the plight of his long-ago lover Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia), with whom he lived for three years in Madrid in the 1980s. Federico and Eduardo reenter his life now, causing a revival of his creative urges not long after Alberto stages one of the director's autobiographical short stories called "Addiction."
Others in the cast include Cecila Roth as Salvador's personal assistant Zulema, Nora Navas as his good friend Mercedes, Pedro Casablanc as Doctor Galindo, and Agustín Almodóvar as a priest. A central theme explored here is the perspective gained on life in one's twilight years. Banderas is thoughtful and easily deserving of empathy in his role, with emotions running deep but restrained, only gradually revealed as the film progresses.
Almodóvar's production was nominated for two Academy Awards, Best International Feature Film and Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Banderas), mirroring its nominations at the Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture - Foreign Language and Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Drama (Banderas). At the BAFTAs, it was nominated for Best Film Not in the English Language, and at Cannes it won Best Actor (Banderas) and Best Composer (Alberto Iglesias), while gaining Almodóvar nominations for the Pamle D'Or and Queer Palm. It's definitely a mature film you will want to watch.