Broken Embraces

Broken Embraces


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Pedro Almodóvar makes very distinctive, very good films. They're uniquely Spanish, internationally popular, critically acclaimed. They deal with universals - love, art, truth, beauty - all those minor little bits and bobs of existence. The nature of his canon is such that calling this "more of the same" is like seconds of dessert: it's not a bad thing at all.

Penelope Cruz is Lena, at the heart of the film though largely absent. This is the story of her relationship with a director, Mateo Blanco, survived by the blind writer Harry "Hurricane" Caine. In a series of looping flashbacks their story unfolds, taking in all manner of scandal, betrayal, and the one film they made together, Girls & Suitcases, itself represented by an Almodóvar short, La Concejala Antropfaga.

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That title translates as Cannibal Councilwoman, which is an amazing, accurate, if somewhat figurative name for the film we see them making. Almodóvar's films aren't always brilliantly translated - Hable Con Ella means "talk with her", not Talk To Her. Los Abrazos Rotos literally translates as broken embraces, but one can't help but think that "torn kisses" is more accurate - there is a violence here, a passion, all beautifully shot, all haunting.

Blanco and Caine are the same man, Lluís Homar, last seen by international audiences in Fermat's Room. Lena, living with the obsessive plutocrat Ernesto Martel (José Luis Gómez), auditions for his new film. Martel takes the opportunity to make use of his son, played by Rubén Ochandiano, fearing that the boy's a homosexual. At first it seems it may become complicated, but this is the nature of Almodóvar's work. He's a master storyteller, and while he's got his obsessions, every film has a special feature. Here, it's film itself.

We've got the picture within a picture, that is itself a picture elsewhere. We've got actors, directors, actors as directors, other directors as actors, Pedro's brother Agustín in cameo, the car from Volver shows up, other films are explicitly referenced, homage is paid, it's dizzying, dazzling, dense, delightful. There's the documentary from Martel's son, the companion piece of a revenge film by the mysterious Ray X.

Harry's close friend and agent, Judit, is played by veteran Blanca Portillo, Judit's son Diego looks after Harry while she's away scouting locations, and it's to him (and us) that the story is told. We never get the whole story, we've got glimpses, glances, this is the gloss of truth, that which is seen, that which we hear about. There are implied facts here, implications, imprecations too - you do not feel the two hours of the film, they disappear as events unfold until a conclusion that is apt, intriguing, satisfying.

There are some minor difficulties, language being the main one, primarily that the comedy of Girls & Suitcases doesn't translate. Marta Aledo is the titular councilwoman, and then there's the ex-wife... A grotesque in any tongue can raise a smile, but some of the wordplay doesn't quite jump the gap. It's no great flaw, however, Spanish is gorgeous to hear, and Cruz could emote while intoning random phonemes and audiences would still love her. Almodóvar's loyal troupe of actors are well represented here, and with roles this good for them and performances that good from them it's not hard to see why he has such a following.

For audiences too, this is another excellent work, another spoonful of creme caramel. That it's familiar makes it no less satisfying, another rich taste that's distinctively Spanish. This is a must for fans of Almodóvar, and an excellent starting point for those new to his work, an accessible and entertaining assemblage of his obsessions, and a brilliant example of his talents.

Reviewed on: 03 Aug 2009
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A tale of obsessive love and contested identity within the world of filmmaking.
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Director: Pedro Almodóvar

Writer: Pedro Almodóvar

Starring: Penélope Cruz, Lluís Homar, Blanca Portillo, José Luis Gómez, Tamar Novas, Rubén Ochandiano

Year: 2009

Runtime: 129 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Spain

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