Sunday, 13 December 2009


Out December 17
Paramount Pictures

Love, lust, lies and the art of filmmaking. And Penelope Cruz. It must be Almodovar. Three years after his domestic melodrama, Volver, also starring Cruz, Pedro Almodovar is back to his convoluted ways with Broken Embraces, a film best described as noirish melodrama.

Set in two time frames – the mid '80s and the early '00s – Broken Embraces centres on Mateo Blanco (Lluis Homar) who in the present is a blind author known as Harry Caine but in the earlier time was a filmmaker whose infatuation with his leading lady is at the heart of the film's competing stories.

That leading lady is Lena, played, of course, by Cruz. Lena marries a wealthy industrialist to secure her father's medical care. The millionaire then aids in her pursuit of an acting career by financing a film which is how she comes to meet Mateo in the earlier time frame; the two are immediately drawn to each other, setting in motion a chain of events that leads to all sorts of betrayals and tragedies, including Mateo's blindness.

If Broken Embraces has the best of Almodovar – melodrama, intrigue upon intrigue, strong female characters (women are never mere decoration in one of the Spaniard's films) – it also features what I would call his flaws: that same melodrama he does so well can also be distancing; and the focus on filmmakers I find somewhat ononistic, much as I did with Bad Education (2004). There is also a gay character in the film that if depicted similarly by a director other than Almodovar (himself gay) would rankle. If Scorcese or Eastwood depicted a gay man in this fashion I suggest there would be cries of homophobia, or at least reductive stereotyping.

What the film does have in its favour is another strong performance by Penelope Cruz. While Hollywood has never really known what to do with Cruz, Almodovar seems able to bring out the best in his leading lady. Perhaps the shared language helps. Cruz's other recent performance of note was her Oscar-winning turn in Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona, another director who has a gift with actresses and writing strong and fascinating female roles.

Ironically, like Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Broken Embraces is not Almodovar at his best but it will please fans well enough until he returns to form. Cruz fans, however, will have no complaints.

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