Christine Champ December 29, 2009
Spanish director Pedro Almodovar‘s Broken Embraces (Los Abrazos Rotos) is a film to fall in love, or at the very least lust, with. Bold, vibrant, voluptuous, coquettish, simultaneously sincere and slick — it’s irresistible. A guilty pleasure, a satisfying indulgence.
Each character in the movie is a compelling, carefully chosen and orchestrated note in Almodovar’s operatic masterpiece. Harry Caine (Lluis Homar), as cool and handsome as a chiseled Kelsey Grammer, used to be the film director Mateo Blanco, until “one day he could only be Harry,” his pseudonym. Now he’s a blind screenwriter who manages his work and life with the aid of old friend and agent Judit (Blanca Portillo) and her son Diego. The air of intrigue thickens as a sultry blonde reads Caine the newspaper and he learns that wealthy businessman Ernesto Martel has died. He reacts strongly but silently. Then the peculiar Ray X comes calling and asks Harry to help him write a damming movie script about a son’s revenge on the father he despises, and we soon discover Ray X is Martel’s gay son. When Judit hisses into the phone at Ray to leave Harry alone, the atmosphere of danger and suspense grows even heavier. And with not a second wasted, Almodovar begins to deftly and tantalizingly unravel the mystery with a series of flashbacks to the ’90s when Caine was Mateo, a young director working on his first comedy (Girls and Suitcases, a romp about girls, boys, and cocaine-packed suitcases). The luscious Lena (Pedro’s muse, Penelope Cruz), an aspiring actress and the mistress of Martel, tries out for a part, and of course Mateo finds her hard to resist both on and off the set. Martel’s jealous rage when he discovers them knows no limits.
Broken Embraces simmers and boils with emotion, but has a hard personality to pin down. Is it a Hollywood fairytale or parable? When lovers are pushed down stairs in fits of passion it smacks of a soap opera spoof or serious melodrama. The aching beauty of a bungalow scene by the wind-swept Spanish seaside whispers of poignant romance. And a comedy? There’s no doubt it’s that, too. Caine picking up tight-jeaned vixens by asking for help crossing the road and then asking them their “measurements.” Diego pitching a vampire script about bloodsuckers who operate blood banks and wear muzzles to prevent dental erections. It’s one of the funniest films I’ve seen in a while, especially considering this year’s run of disappointing comedies. Ultimately, the movie is all of the above and more, a universe filtered through the heightened sensibility of Almodovar’s movie lens.
But what does Almodovar want audiences to think? Is it all a cinematic tease? The ridiculously frenzied embraces of Mateo and Lena, seemingly over-the-top passion, the endless dramatic plot twists, the heady rush of lush color — Lena’s fiery red lipstick, a black dress draped in dazzling gold chains. When the sound, fury, and fun finally cease, Broken Embraces is a love story. The tale of the amour of a well-practiced and ardent lover — Pedro Almodovar — for his art, for filmmaking.
Categories: ReviewsTags: Broken embraces, Movie reviews, Penelope cruz