An excavation of passions that may leave you listless

Broken Embraces

on November 24, 2009 by Richard Mowe

Penélope Cruz looks and performs divinely under the direction of Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, who gives his stylish take on the noir dramas of the ’40s and ’50s in Broken Embraces. Perhaps there are too many elements here fighting for attention but few will care about such deficiencies when the film is so ravishing to watch. It’s a sheer indulgence for Almodóvar and just as indulgent for his fans.

Pedro Almodóvar, for so long the enfant terrible of European cinema, fails to spring many surprises with this, his latest effort. It lacks the bite and originality of his previous and more personal films, among them such titles as Live Flesh, All About My Mother and Volver. This feels more like a very stylish but deliberate construction, albeit on a broad emotional canvas.

Mateo, played by Lluís Homar, is a film director who now writes, lives and loves in darkness. Fourteen years earlier he was in a brutal car crash on the island of Lanzarote. In the accident, he lost not only his eyesight but also the affections of his lover, Lena (Penélope Cruz). Since, Lena has become the mistress of Martel (José Luis Gómez), an overbearing millionaire. In order to piece together the relationship they had, Martel uses the pretext of producing a “making of” documentary about the film in which Lena has agreed to appear for Mateo. As a result he has reason to follow their every move.

So far, so convoluted—in terms of the premise. Yet Almodóvar still manages to weave something compellingly hypnotic out of material that in the hands of lesser talents would go hopelessly astray.

Cruz’s performance pulsates at the heart of this film—and she’s clearly more at home here than she has been on many of her recent outings outside Spain. She gives all kinds of nuances to Lena. There’s a wonderful scene in which she goes through a variety of wigs for her role in the film she is making for Mateo, pouting and twirling and oozing sheer star appeal.

Almodóvar has always been obsessed with the business of cinema itself, but never has he been more so than he is here. Flashes backwards and forwards link his film within a film and connect the present and 1994. It’s a conundrum about passion but oddly lacks passion in the deliberate scheming.

No one will feel short-changed, yet the earnest hope remains at the end of it all that Almodóvar will return to a more simple and personal approach in his next film.

Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Cast: Ángela Molina, Blanca Portillo, José Luis Gómez, Lluís Homar, Penélope Cruz, Rubén Ochandiano and Tamar Novas
Director/Screenwriter: Pedro Almodóvar
Producer: Esther García
Genre: Drama; Spanish-language, subtitled
Rating: R for sexual content, language and some drug material
Running time: 127 min.
Release date: November 20 NY, December 11 LA

Tags: Sony Pictures Classics, Angela Molina, Blanca Portillo, Jos Luis Gmez, Llus Homar, Penelope Cruz, Ruben Ochandiano, Tamar Novas, Pedro Almodovar, Esther Garcia, Drama, Spanish-language, subtitled, movies, romance, blackmail, affair

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