Here we have Almodóvar's most open, unadorned, emotive and maybe even courageous film to date, an intimate portrait of pain and regeneration that strikes the heart without trickery. Gone are the chic excesses of Kika and the uneasy balance between superficial sensationalism and pocket melodrama that's marked the director's work since Women on the Verge. Paredes is immensely sympathetic as Leo, a forty-something writer of romantic fiction who hits crisis point when she's rejected by her absentee husband and finds she's trapped by her reputation when she tries to expand her literary horizons. Although she's supported by Angel (Echanove), cultural editor of El País, the constant bickering between her mother and sister doesn't help matters (Lampreave and de Palma, in a double-act to treasure); a trip home to her native village in La Mancha proves, however, an unlikely source of solace. Rarely has Almodóvar focused so closely on a single character, and the challenge of developing an individual portrait has reconnected him with the emotional realities of an everyday damaged life, where loneliness, professional frustration and the irritation and commitment that permeate family relationships are observed with perceptiveness, honesty and the usual incisive humour.