There are layers upon layers of intertextual storytelling of the self in Pedro Almodóvar’s meta memoir “Pain and Glory.” The actor synonymous with Almodóvar, Antonio Banderas, portrays a character that is some version of Almodóvar himself as a wild-haired Spanish film director, Salvador Mallo. It’s a film about reconciling every version of oneself, and the ways in which life has a magical way of forcing that to happen.

“Pain and Glory” is about emotional pain, but physical pain too, the fears and anxieties that manifest physically and the fear and anxiety pain brings up. Beset with back pain, the ailing Salvador hasn’t directed a film in years while recovering from a lumbar fusion surgery and the loss of his beloved mother. But as a legend in Spanish cinema, he’s fêted at screenings of his older films. One such film, “Sabor,” occasions the kickoff of his trip down memory lane. After running into an old actress friend (Cecilia Roth) over coffee, he decides to look up the star of “Sabor,” Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia), from whom he has long been estranged.

The coffee date is the first domino to fall in the cascade of events that leads Salvador face to face with the ghosts of his past. From old collaborators to old lovers and long-forgotten versions of himself, the random, inherent magic of coincidence reveals itself as the inevitability of fate in this fable about how we learn who we are, again and again.

Salvador struggles to control his own body in the present, gripped with a mysterious choking ailment as well as chronic pain that Alberto teaches him to relieve with heroin, the devastatingly effective tonic. The opiate haze allows him, for a moment, to surrender to the whims of the world, but he has to the kick the stuff to start to be present for what life presents him: an old lover, Federico (Leonardo Sbaraglia), seeking a final moment together, or a token from childhood that makes its way back to him.

Structured episodically, like a loosely connected series of essays, and refracted through many prisms of the filmmaking apparatus, Almodóvar creates several avatars between himself and his story. At one point, Alberto performs a monologue of Salvador’s personal essays as a one-man show, two men playing once- and twice-removed versions of Almodóvar in one film at once. The extra self is necessary to get at some of the more intimate moments, while the artifice of filmmaking itself becomes a looking-glass device to get into the most earnest moments of Salvador’s childhood.

One of Almodóvar’s other iconic collaborators, Penélope Cruz, plays Jacinta, Salvador’s mother, in flashbacks to childhood that trouble his subconscious. Cruz is as vivacious and fiery-eyed as she has always been in the eyes of Almodóvar, a passionate, loving but persistent mother desperately looking for a way out of poverty for her bright, sensitive son (Asier Flores).

But despite Cruz’s performance, and the operatically bright crimson and robin’s egg blue design that denotes the film as distinctly Almodóvarian, the emotional register of “Pain and Glory” is quiet. Banderas gives an unexpected performance, one that’s detailed, funny and contemplative, rueful but never regretful. Working with the legends of his long career to operationalize his past, Almodóvar crafts a singularly unique and medium-specific autobiography in which cinema is inextricably linked to his own story, to his heart, soul and body.

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‘PAIN AND GLORY’

3.5 stars

Cast: Antonio Banderas, Penélope Cruz, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Asier Etxeandia, Asier Flores, Cecilia Roth.

Directed by Pedro Almodóvar.

Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes.

Rated R for drug use, some graphic nudity and language.

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©2019 Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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