Thursday, 3 September 2009

Broken Embraces

2009. Dir: Pedro Almodóvar. Starring: Penélope Cruz, Lluís Homar, Blanca Portillo, José Luis Gómez and Tamar Novas. ●●●●○

During August I went to the cinema twice, both times to my local independent cinema, both times to see auteur films from directors whose work I love, and both times the film was about the power of film, and how it could be used as a tool for revenge. Last week I railed about the lack of humanity in Tarantino's effort which, for me, was the rotten core in his film. This week Almodovar has proven that cinema is about redemption and love. Far closer to my thinking.

Los abrazos rotos (Broken Embraces) opens with the blind screen writer Harry Caine (Homar, superb) seducing a good samaritan. It's a funny and tounching scene - Caine is no adonis but his charisma overpowers the girl - with lots of passion. There isn't however a touch of romance, she quickly showers and leaves, he's back to work before she's finished. This act of love-making was perfunctory and purely a release.

During the aftermath the other modern day characters appear. Caine's agent (Portillo) and her son, his assistant, Diego (Novas). As these three establish their routines we are also treated to flashbacks of Cruz becoming the mistress of ruthless millionaire (Martel), who in the present time has recently died.

Ray X (Rubén Ochandiano), a mysterious first time director, comes to Caine to ask him to aid with writing a screenplay about a son taking revenge on his father. It is from this encounter and a somewhat ham-fisted accident for Diego, that Caine explains how the two stories we have seen are connected.

Ultimately Caine used to be the film director Mateo Blanco, whos last film starred Cruz. They met on set, fell in love (proper love with real sex and much touching after) and eloped when the filming was over. A car accident later took her life and his eyes.

I'm not sure the early flashbacks work, and would question whether we need to know Cruz only got into the relationship with Martel to save her father. The framing of Diego's accident to bring us back to the early 90's is ham-fisted but it would have been much more satisfactory if we had only seen Cruz in fragments of photo's and had no understanding of the characters prior to this.

All of the performances are superb, with the exception of Ochandiano who appears to be channelling Little Britain in the flashback scenes, but I'd expecially like to highlight the work of Blanco Portillo. She has a couple of scenes where she's basically relaying the plot to anyone not paying enough attention, as well as adding in some extra snippets of information. It's a relatively thankless task but she does it so well, balancing the humour and the depth of the moment. She also is able to show a massiv range of emotion in the beach scenes. Fantastic. I'll certainly be looking out for her in the future.

As with any of Almodovar's films the design is wonderfully detailed, and exquisitely coloured. The use of art in the homes of the protagonists is nicely counterbalanced. And Cruz is dressed beatifully. The red dress alone is a show stopper.

Overall I'd say that whilst it's not without it's problems (messy, some bizarre loose ends but many things which don't need to be explained which were) Almodovar once again makes a fantastic and moving picture.


I just realised I never said why this was about the cinema and revenge. Well, after Homar and Cruz run away Martel bribes the editor to cut the film really badly and it then flops. At the end though Caine is completing a directors cut which will show once and for all how wonderful Cruz was as an actress.

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