Pedro Almodovar’s Broken Embraces is another fine addition to his storied career. Here is a director who embraces his filmmaking influences to inform his movies. Almodovar creates unique visions of color, music, and language with a creative spirit that can only be called art. His latest film is a twisty-turny mystery that is an ode to movies, to love, and of course, to the beauty of Penelope Cruz.
Broken Embraces jumps back and forth in time following the life of Harry Caine/Mateo Blanco (Lluis Homar), a filmmaker who falls in love with the wrong woman. In the present, the hero goes by the name of Harry. He is a blind screenwriter whose past as a film director is shrouded in mystery from most of the people who know him. Harry spends his days working on scripts with Diego (played by Tamar Novas), the adult son of his agent, Judit (Blanca Portillo). Two events propel Diego to learn about Harry’s past.
The first is a visit from a filmmaker named Ray X (Ruben Ochandiano). He wants to make a film with Harry, but Judit promptly refuses. Her angry reaction prompts Diego to start asking questions. Then, while Judit is out of town, Diego accidentally overdoses while DJ’ing at a nightclub. Harry cares for the young man after the accident and to pass the time, Diego asks his mentor to reveal why Judit wants nothing to do with Ray X and why Harry refuses to acknowledge his former life as Mateo.
From there we flashback to 1994 and we meet our hero when he is still going by Mateo. He is a suave, confident film director about to embark on his latest project. While auditioning for his leading lady, he meets the gorgeous Lena (Cruz), a former call girl who has since become the mistress of an older wealthy businessman, Ernesto (Jose Luis Gomez). There is an immediate spark between Mateo and Lena and he casts her to star in his film. She quickly becomes his muse and the two begin to fall in love.
Ernesto is a jealous and possessive man who will stop at nothing to make sure that Lena remains his always. He begins to spy on Lena; his method for surveillance is devious and leads to tragedy.
By movie’s end, the past and present collide in such compelling storytelling that I dare not tell you what happens because I insist that you rent this movie.
This film noir by Almodovar is vibrant, evenly paced and beautifully photographed by cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto. Adding to the look and feel of this Hitchcockian thriller is the intense score by Alberto Iglesias. His music echoes the masterful work of Bernard Herrmann, whose films included North By Northwest and Vertigo. Watching and listening to Broken Embraces almost makes you believe that you’ve unearthed a lost Hitchcock classic, if the master had included nudity and shot entirely in Spanish.
Not only is Almodovar a brilliant director, but the characters he writes are always compelling. In Broken Embraces his men and women have back stories that could be their own separate films. The way each plot comes together so seamlessly is the work of a director and writer working at the top of his craft. Moreover, each actor gives such nuanced performances, especially those actors required to play the same character in different time periods, that soon after the film begins you forget that you’re reading subtitles.
Finally, what can be said about Penelope Cruz that hasn’t already been written? The actress is one of Spain’s greatest acting treasures. When she is performing in her native tongue, she is without peer. Under the guidance of her beloved Pedro, she is so at ease and comfortable that she gives her most assured performances. Even when she’s just making facial expressions she can seduce you or break your heart all with a simple smile or a bat of the eyes. And what eyes. The eyes of Penelope Cruz are mysterious, sexy, dangerous and magical.
The special features on this DVD are a nice lot. There are deleted scenes, a featurette on the relationship between Almodovar and Cruz, a Q&A with Cruz, and the most enjoyable feature: a short film that is basically part of the film within the film of Broken Embraces.