Asier Etxeandi and Antonio Banderas in Pain and Glory.

Antonio Banderas delivers what may be his greatest performance as a director dealing with physical and emotional pains in Pain and Glory, a semi-autobiographical film from Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar.

Salvador (Banderas) is retired, struggling with migraines and back pain after major surgery, and unsure on whether or not he will continue in the art of filmmaking. He’s having bouts of nostalgia, leading him to be momentarily enthusiastic about an anniversary screening of one of his more beloved films. This brings him to the doorstep of Alberto (Asier Etxeandia), an actor with whom he’s been feuding. They happily discuss presenting the film together—while, in a very impromptu sort of way, getting Salvador started on a heroin habit.

Flashbacks to Salvador’s childhood feature a fantastic Penélope Cruz as his mother, raising the precocious Salvador on little money in a cave-like dwelling. Banderas takes a reserved approach to the role that is unlike his usual attack—and it’s refreshing. It’s also profound.

Almodovar returns to form with Pain and Glory, and it ends on an optimistic note that could hint at a new branch of creativity for the great director.

Pain and Glory will be available via online sources including iTunes and on Tuesday, Jan. 14.