Spanish actors Penelope Cruz and Lluis Homar in "Broken Embraces"

Movie Review: Pedro Almodovar’s “Broken Embraces”

For cinephiles, Broken Embracess story, told by a movie director who was blinded in a car accident that killed his lover, is rippling with film references to challenge the most serious of nerds and scholars. For the uninitiated, Penelope Cruz as Lena the secretary/prostitute/concubine/actress keeps you with the plots hyperbolic leaps through time and credibility. Think of Audrey Hepburn here. Shes an unfortunate whos destined to bring misfortune on her lovers and herself. As Hitchcock did with Janet Leigh in Psycho, Almodovar kills her off when there is still much of the films story to tell.

The narrator is Mateo Blanco (Lluis Homar) who now calls himself Harry Caine. Think of Orson Welles in The Third Man and Citizen Kane. This Harry is a blind director cared for by the son of his agent. His pet peccadillo is to strike up conversations on the street with young women who guide him back to his apartment, where they have sex. Bear in mind that disabilities are an erotic turn-on for this director. After all, he produced Action Mutante, a wild farce from 1993, directed by Alex de la Iglesia, about disabled terrorists.

Penelope Cruz in "Broken Embraces"

Penelope Cruz in "Broken Embraces"

Soon enough we learn why Harry needs a quick fix.

The love of his life, Lena, was killed in a vendetta hit, by a massive car sent by her jealous tycoon protector – with whom shed made a live-in arrangement when her luck was down. The “accident” also left Mateo blind – hence his new career as a screenwriter and his new name. Inside the fateful love story is the making of a darkly silly comedy, Girls and Suitcases  — directed by Mateo, starring Lena, and produced by Lenas boyfriend — which takes us back to the old campy Almodovar of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Jane Fonda bought the rights to remake that film but never did. Almodovar seems to be taking on part of it himself here.

Broken Embraces

Broken Embraces

Also in the mix of this film within a film, is a “making if” documentary of  Girls and Suitcases, shot by the boyfriends neer do well son, who spies on the romance between Mateo and Lena to get information for his father. Its not just campy, but cruelly comic.

The conventional wisdom seems to be that Almodovars films are getting darker,  and that love among his passionate desperate and violently jealous characters is fraught with pain. Isnt that what melodramas in the style of Douglas Sirk are about? Almodovar is reminding us that he is traveling on familiar territory when he shows his doomed couple on the lam, watching Roberto Rossellinis Mia Viaggia in Italia, in which two lovers who died in each others arms are excavated in the same position.

Almodovar reveals his special affinity for pain in the character of Harry, who tells the story of his lovers murder, an assassination that blinded him, as his last experience of sight, which hell have to die to escape.

But he also reminds us in every frame that this is a movie, part of a continuum of cinema at the core of Broken Embraces.  Its an adventure into darkness territory, but you laugh, not just at Almodovars endless movie allusions, but because you always know the lights will come back on.

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