Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Broken Embraces

Broken Embraces (2009)
Directed by: Pedro Almodóvar
Writer: Pedro Almodóvar
Starring: Penélope Cruz (Lena); Lluís Homar (Mateo Blanco / Harry Caine); Blanca Portillo (Judit García), José Luis Gómez (Ernesto Martel), Rubén Ochandiano (Ray X),
If you love movies, it has to an obsession. There's no two ways about it. And when Pedro Almodovar tells you so, you ought to trust him.
As a director, Almodovar’s love for cinema and self-reference is evident. Almost all his films are based the backdrop of movies. Most of his protagonists are in movie business — from 'Law of Desire' to 'Bad Education.' Even a film like 'Volver', which had an entirely different approach, had a film crew in the background.
So, his so-called tribute to films, his latest, 'Broken Embraces' should be nothing but spectacular. In one sense, it is spectacular, visually stunning, brilliantly acted, emotionally wrenching in layer after layer — it's said to be Almodovar's most expensive film to date, and it looks so. On top of it, Penelope Cruz never looked so stunning.
Yet, the film is so brilliantly conceived and executed that at the end the product looks very contrived. Now, this is something of an irony because this very ability (to be able to make the most contrived of plots plausible on screen, even preposterous ones like in 'Matador' or in 'Talk To Her'), made him one of the world's greatest directors.
The plot device Almodovar uses here is similar to that of ‘Bad Education’ — dual identities of the characters, all leading obsessive destruction. In ‘Bad Education’, there are two Ignacios, two Father Monolos, and so on, and they all are different from each others.
In ‘Broken Embraces’, the main character posses a dual identity, yet the labyrinth of passion and obsession, the centre of all Almodovar films (here manifested in terms of a beautiful but resilient, fragile but enduing Lena played to perfection by Cruz.)
Yet, the telling a story, which Almodovar perfected in ‘Bad Education’ and later in ‘Talk To Her’ and even in ‘Volver’ somewhat falters here as the directors try to cram in too many things here.
Sample this: The story begins 14 years later with the protagonist Mateo, now blind and known by his pen name Harry Cain (the way it’s pronounced in Spain, it sounds like hurricane, probably an apt name the way he wreaks destruction to the lives he touches.). He was a filmmaker and in love with Lena, who is dead. Then we are introduced to Lena, 14 years earlier, her lover, the rich businessman Martel, his gay son, Ernesto jr, a repulsive character who at the end redeems himself, fleetingly. In the background are Judith, Mateo’s agent, and her son Diego.
Now, this cast of characters are making a movie, ‘Girls and Suitcases,’ which is actually a retelling of Almodovar’s earlier ‘Women on the Varge of Nervous Breakdown’ (For the Almodovar fans, this film within the film sequences are a treasured find.), and this process of movie-making is being recorded on the video... So, we have a movie-within-a-movie-within-a-movie. Add a love-triangle in the middle of all these, you can imagine the how complicated the plot will be. That’s not an issue. In Almodovar’s assured hand, the multi-layered plot all falls into place at the end. The problem is focus. There are too many things happening that the film fails to make us sufficiently involved.
Part II
I wrote the previous note after watching the film the first time. Then I saw the film again. I admire this man. I did not want to be left dissatisfied. And I was not. On the second viewing, I could focus more. Yet, I stick to my earlier feeling. The film somehow meanders more than it should. This does not mean that ‘Broken Embraces’ is a bad movie. It’s a fantastic film, one of the year’s best. But the problem is, with a great director, you expect greater things.
Movies on movies Pedro Almodovar: An "irrational passion" for movies at Salon.
"Broken Embraces" and the ties that bind at Salon.

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