TRIGGER warning: the following fact may make you feel very old. It has been 30 years since Pedro Almodovar arrived with the burst of fireworks that was Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Now 69, the past remains very much a concern of the present in Pain and Glory, the semi-autobiographical tale of a director reflecting on what has gone, and what may yet lie ahead.

Between Almodovar and Quentin Tarantino driving down Memory Boulevard in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, there is a lot of reminiscing about at the moment. If you thought Once was meandering, Pain and Glory is not likely to impress, having an even more sedate pace though a vastly shorter running time. Yet it is, in its own, uniquely Almodovar way, a quiet, quirky delight that treads softly, often beautifully, between melancholy and joy.

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Antonio Banderas, who turned out for Almodovar in Women on the Verge and has been one of his regular cast, plays Salvador Mallo, a film director of a certain age. Labouring under the weight of aches and pains, the worst caused by crumbling discs, he has been suffering a creative drought and has resolved to stop writing and filming. Only then, he tells an acquaintance, will he be able to start living. Yes, that old line.

As part of saying goodbye to all that film making, Mallo visits an actor with whom he had a bad falling out many years ago. Alberto (Asier Etxeandia), according to Mallo, never played the character as intended, a contention fiercely resisted by the actor. Mallo blames the drugs, a habit Alberto has not given up and which the director seems about to take an interest.

Sometimes the memories of his childhood come to Mallo when he is high, but not always. He conjures up visions of women washing clothes at the riverside; of the family’s move to Valencia where their home turned out to be a hole in the ground. A constant is his mother, Jacinta (Penelope Cruz, another of Almodovar’s regular band of players), always trying to do her best by her beloved boy while having very little. Besides thoughts of childhood, other memories, among them first love, are stirred in thrilling ways.

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Balancing the wistfulness is Almodovar’s puckish humour. The scene where Mallo and Alberto phone in to a Q&A they are supposed to be appearing at in person is a hoot.

Banderas, grizzled as he is here, can never hide or dim the sparkle in his eyes, and it is wonderful to see him given so much space and time on screen again. His character may end up at the place we expect, but watching him get there offers rich rewards.

Showing at GFT till September 12