“Pain and Glory,” directed by Pedro Almodóvar (“Julieta”), is one of those rare movies that feels like the culmination of their creator. Like Lynch’s “Eraserhead,” Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” and Cuarón’s “Roma,” it’s the film that its director was meant to make, perfectly blending their talents, personal aesthetic and life story to spectacular effect.

Almodóvar incorporates aspects of his life into “Pain and Glory,” and the conflicts feel bracingly personal, like flipping through someone’s diary and learning dark, juicy secrets. Yet, beyond this he captures something deeper, something universally human. “Pain and Glory” deals with what we’re all afraid to admit, the existential questions that keep us up at night.

The story of Salvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas, “The Laundromat”), an aging director living in Madrid coping with terrible health problems, will touch every viewer personally. One will wonder “how did they know this about me?” as they see aspects of their own lives play out on the screen. Be it lost love, family dysfunction or the terrible moments when one’s body turns against itself or a loss of purpose, “Pain and Glory” is unflinching about what makes life so difficult. Yet there’s also love, desire and creativity. It asks which one triumphs in the end, the pain or the glory of our lives?

“Pain and Glory” begins with Salvador visiting Alberto (Asier Etxeandia, “The Silent War”), an estranged friend and actor in one of his most famous films. This meeting sends Salvador down a troubled, fascinating journey of recollection. Not much happens on a narrative level — “Pain and Glory” is more about characters than plot — yet there are soaring victories and crushing defeats all the same. Salvador needs to decide how he will live out the rest of his days: Wasting away in his apartment and lamenting days gone by, or directing something new, even if it causes him physical agony.

Almodóvar cuts from Banderas’s Salvador to his younger self (Asier Flores) and back again, paralleling past events with present ones. His formative experiences with his mother (Penėlope Cruz, “Murder on The Orient Express”) and a family friend named Eduardo (Cėsar Vicente) are vital additions to the story, not the unneceary gimmicks that flackbacks tend to be.

Wielding emotions like Hitchcock wielded plot, Almodóvar doles heartbreak, joy and mystery out slowly as layers of Salvador’s life are pulled back, letting it all build until astonishing truths are revealed.

Most of the audience wept throughout the last hour of the film. The excellent performances convey Almodóvar’s confessional script perfectly, making it strikingly genuine, like it’s more than just a movie. Every conversation sears with emotion, from the hilariously witty to the brutally tragic. Relationships are given ample room to grow, yet when the credits roll, one will wish there was more time to send with these enthralling characters.

“Pain and Glory” is shot with the colorful vision of an auteur and every scene pops, from stark white sheets on a lush, pastoral Spanish riverside to a chic modern Madrid apartment where Guggenheim-sought art hangs on the walls. It is rare to find a movie where everyone involved is on the top of their game. Almodóvar and the team behind “Pain and Glory” have created a stunning portrait of love, loss and, ultimately, humanity. It’s a masterpiece.



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