Eduardo Valente’s review published on Letterboxd:
In first view (and this is one of those films you watch for the first time thinking you need to come back to it later) it plays on a combination of mixed feelings, where the proximity to Almodóvar's life seems to weirdly distance him and us from some parts of the film - it's as if the closer to sheer fantasy his cinema is the closer to the truth it feels.
To me at least, for the most that Banderas gives it a brilliant effort I have a hard time really feeling that he is as fragile as the film wants me to believe he is, and particularly the exchanges with Asier Etxeandia as the actor from the past sound strangely stilted. The result is that it becomes a bit of an intellectual effort for me to follow the drama (I have to think about what they are dealing with more than feel it), and that is very contrary to the whole Almodóvar pathos.
However, having said that, it's tough not to think highly about a film that is structured around three such beautiful scenes on the power of connecting imagination, projection and memory by exchanges of glances (the kid looking at the women by the river, in the beginning; the theater monologue being watched by the old lover, in the middle; and the awakening of desire near the end). It´s curious to notice that the three are scenes without Banderas in them.
The feeling I get is Almodóvar is somewhat in awe of how Banderas wants to emulate him, and doesn't quite know how to use that mirror since he has always projected himself into the most different characters, and now he is actually "looking at himself". The scenes with the old mother or between Banderas and Sbaraglia are the strongest in that sense, since the exchanges are more about interplay than the rest of the more self-centered ones.
Or perhaps it was really me who was not ready to look at this more calmly and need to go back to it without the first viewing strangeness to really get into it. I guess we'll see.