After a run of world-class films that began 10 years ago with All about My Mother, Pedro Almodóvar has slightly taken his foot off the pedal here.
There is much to admire in the silky editing and kaleidoscopic narrative of this movie-inflected melodrama, though having set up its plot beautifully in the first hour the film somehow muffs the resolution of its multiple intrigues. Echoing Bad Education, it concerns a blind screenwriter, Harry Caine (Lluís Homar), who's hiding from his former identity as film-maker Mateo Blanco. Flashing back to the early 1990s we find Blanco involved in a passionate affair with Lena (Penélope Cruz), herself balancing a double identity as a humble PA and an aspiring actress – she will star in Blanco's new movie "Girls and Suitcases", itself a reworking of Almodóvar's Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. It's pleasant to get lost in this maze of doubles and duplicates, and to spot other movies in its densely allusive texture. Yet it's never truly exciting or affecting, and it doesn't take the emotional risks of, say, Talk to Her. Almodóvar shares with Alfred Hitchcock a natural obsession with movies and loves to quote them, which is fine as far as it goes; but the complexity of its plotting is not answered by a comparable sophistication of feeling. The director is toying with us, he knows it, and he knows we know it. This isn't a dud, it's just a small disappointment.