Pain and Glory —which refracts Almodóvar's childhood memories back across his illustrious career—is one of the director's most personal ventures, a sort of "autofiction" that places Antonio Banderas in the role of an aging, ailing Spanish director. But it's surprisingly one of his more accessible films, too, and a generous one in its articulation of living, dying, and the creative process that subsumes all in between.
The character, named Salvador Mallo, has more in common with Almodóvar than spiky hair and the earned solemnity of a reformed enfant terrible. Coming of age in a Catholic household, raised by a single mother (the elegant Penelope Cruz in flashbacks, and Julieta Serrano, wonderful in a lower-key way that's just as captivating, in the present) and flushed with the nascent tingling of first desire, Mallo's a thinly veiled stand-in, and the director finds ways to speak powerfully through him, even in scenes where Pain and Glory diverts from being a straightforward autobiography.
Occasionally, unfamiliar threads are introduced that invigorate its interweaving of past and present. The film gradually reveals itself to be a sensitive paean to a life lived, if not always wisely, at least authentically. Banderas's performance is so towering, so finely shaded yet thrillingly unvarnished, that the film feels at many a moment ready to burst with all the raw feeling bottled up inside it. In the finale, it finally does, fireworks rippling against the night sky, bright and beautiful for as long as they may last, their light illuminating the dream of a child, eyes wide and mind newly ablaze, far below.
STREAM IT: 'Low Tide' (DirecTV)
An Amblin haze backlights this wistful, melancholic little tale about kids growing up all in a hurry once uncovered treasure puts them, dangerously, at odds. Set along the Jersey Shore, it's largely framed as the story of Peter (Jaeden Martell), a soft-spoken teen who tags along as his older brother's friend group breaks into vacation houses, plundering valuables to bankroll long, lazy days along the boardwalk.