Broken Embraces

2010-06-19 12:00
Broken Embraces

What it's about:

Blind writer Harry Caine (Lluís Homar) recalls a love affair 14 years previously with Lena (Penélope Cruz), the beautiful but damaged star of a movie he wrote and directed.

What we thought:

Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, as preternaturally gifted as he is at telling intimate stories, could afford to take it easy this time around – if he wanted to. Broken Embraces is about one woman's addictive power over two men, and that woman is played by the only woman who can in Almodóvar's world: Penélope Cruz. Her presence is more than enough reason to lose yourself in this sumptuous love story. You won't be able to help yourself.

All the Almodóvar hallmarks are present and accounted for: strong, alluring female characters; misguided youth; tragedy; beauty, and a sliver of noir-ish intrigue. Though less intricate than his previous movies, the relative simplicity of Broken Embraces makes it just as capable of drawing the viewer into its dark, dangerous heart.

Fourteen years ago, Mateo Blanco was a successful screenwriter and director who has no choice but to cast an inexperienced, aspiring actress Magdalena ("Lena") the trophy mistress of his chief financier, ageing millionaire businessman Ernesto Martel (José Luis Gómez), in his latest movie. Martel becomes jealous of Lena's new life and sends his repressed gay son Ernesto Jr. to videotape the production of the movie, thereby allowing him to spy on Lena. He even hires a lip reader to translate Lena's whispered conversations with Mateo and becomes dangerously aware of their onset affair.

In the present, Mateo, now blind, has now taken on the name Harry Caine and is nursed by his longtime agent Judit (Blanca Portillo) and her adult son Diego (Tamar Novas) who is a DJ at a local club. Diego becomes intrigued by Harry's past when Ernesto Jr. re-emerges, this time as filmmaker Ray X, demanding to work with Harry again. And so Harry's sad story of obsessive love is told through flashbacks. Harry must finally reconcile his present with his past and find his muse once again.

Broken Embraces doesn't keep its cards too close to its chest, making much of what unfolds rather unsurprising, and the writing is less edgy than what we've become accustomed to. But that's just a tiny speck (if it's that at all) on what is a stunningly conceived canvas – just another in Almodóvar's singular collection. This is also his fourth film with Cruz, and together they have both reached their respective creative peaks. Cruz is, as always, blindingly stunning as the object of affection who can only but cause the men around her to lose their minds. Her role here is the cinematic equivalent of a no-brainer, though her beauty is but one feature of her performance that, at turns, is bewitching, acerbic and passionate.

As one can expect from Almodóvar, the saturated colours and rich texture of the movie's look is something to be seen. It's a movie that almost feels as if it's about Almodóvar himself – his love and devotion to beautiful, capable women – mothers in particular – and his undeniable attraction to cinema and its power to transform.

It's a love he shares freely here. To not partake in this sensual experience is to deprive yourself.

Pedro Almodóvar re-teams with his muse, Penélope Cruz, who plays an addictive object of desire for two men. What else?

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