Broken Embraces

Director    Pedro Almodovar
Starring    Penelope Cruz, Lluis Homar, Blanca Portillo, Jose Luis Gomez, Tamar Novas
Release    20 NOV (US) 28 AUG (UK)
3 stars


1st September 2009

Penelope Cruz isn't a human being, she's a work of art. Spanish auteur Pedro Almodovar certainly recognises this and Broken Embraces is a love letter to Ms Cruz's exquisite face. It radiates from the screen, sorrowful and fragile at times, occasionally gleeful or mischievous, but always enchanting.

The film is also an ode to cinema for its ability to capture beauty (before it goes wrinkly or gets pumped with botox) and immortalise it. The film within a film in Broken Embraces allows Almodovar to play with the notion of the director and his muse - he dresses her up, her face poised just so. And who could object? Cruz is as captivating to a film audience as she is to a filmmaker.

[gallery]The film is rather perplexing to begin with. We meet a group of characters still shell-shocked and sore from events that occurred over a decade ago. Mateo Blanco (Lluis Homar) is a blind screenwriter who used to be a director until he lost his sight. He also goes by the name Harry Caine and shifts between his two identities, the reason for which gradually becomes apparent. News of the death of his old nemesis Ernesto Martel (Jose Luis Gomez) and the arrival of Ernesto's son on Mateo's doorstep brings the past across his threshold, uninvited and unwelcome.

The heart of the film and by far the most absorbing part is the flashback that transports us to Mateo's days as a film director and his passionate affair with Lena (Cruz), the star of his film. Lena is Ernesto Martel's mistress, who is financing Mateo's film. The love story between the Mateo and Lena becomes increasingly desperate as Ernesto gets obsessively jealous and sends his son to spy on the pair with a camera under the pretence of filming a 'making of' documentary. So not only is there a film within a film - there's a film within a film within a film.

This is where Almodovar's trademark visual flair shines through and just about manages to avoid being self-indulgent. And so the layers of celluloid mount, capturing tender fleeting moments, constructing the past out of a series of snippets on the cutting room floor.

Almodovar's films feature strong women and this was certainly true of the last movie he made with Penelope Cruz. But while Volver celebrated female resilience, Broken Embraces is a stark depiction of fragility. It's a deeply cathartic, poignant and tragic film. However, certain confessions and revelations towards the end begin to drift out of the melodrama bracket and into soap opera terrain, which is rather a shame.

If only Broken Embraces had retained its fragmented and imperfect momentum until the end of the movie, instead of tying all the loose ends into a neat little bow.

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