Broken Embraces (2009) dir. Pedro Almodovar
Starring: Penelope Cruz, Lluis Homar, Blanca Portillo and Jose Luis Gomez
By Blair Stewart
After taking a drubbing at Cannes I expected Pedro Almodovar's latest to be a weak offering when in fact "Broken Embraces" only suffers in part from coming after the acclaimed "Volver".
Featuring many of his regular players and hang-ups with illness, filmmaking and carnal desires, Almodovar spins the yarn of Harry Caine/Mateo Blanco (Lluis Homar), a blind writer-director in exile. Having found out the wealthy industrialist Ernesto Martel (Jose Luis Gomez) has died, Harry/Mateo and his godson Diego untangle Harry's past in flashback involving the deceased millionaire, the millionaire's mistress Lena (Penelope Cruz) and their flameout movie project together.
The movie within the movie "Girls and Suitcases" is a fun throwback to Almodovar's "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" past in the foreground while Harry/Mateo and Lena (who's been cast in the lead role with Ernesto footing the bill) go off-script in the background. Adding another layer, Ernesto dispatches his creepily fey son Ernesto Jr. to make a documentary of the filming while he keeps tabs on the affair. Although the star-crossed lovers can find a brief respite from the world its tough to outlast a powerful man ruling it. The results are pitched into Almodovar's melancholic wringer of bawdy laughs and tears, but the slack payoff isn't on par with the likes of "Talk to Her" or "Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!"
Penelope Cruz, as the star, is still very much Almodovar's ideal muse, he films her sexual vitality better than anyone else and she acquiesces in his fetishes for wigs and cinematic-mythology (Audrey Hepburn, Hitchcock's ice-queens, Almodovar's work). Lluis Homar as Harry/Mateo centres the film as it jumps between 1992 Madrid and 2008, and he has the right amount of dramatic weight to carry the plot while looking like an older Catalan matinee idol.
The film thankfully begins with an erotic seduction of a good Samaritan by Harry/Mateo, a Tarantino-like introduction with sex in place of violence. In supporting roles, Almodovar sometime-players Lola Duenas, Blanca Portillo and Angela Molina make good with the melodrama of the script. But because of the meandering it takes to reach its end even when the results are obvious "Broken Embraces" strikes me as minor Almodovar.
Regardless of the pace, minor Almodovar is still worth seeing if you're a fan.