Starring: Penelope Cruz, Lluís Homar, Blanca Portillo
Directed by: Pedro Almodóvar (“Talk to Her”)
Written by: Pedro Almodóvar (“Talk to Her”)
At its most uncomplicated, Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar’s (“Talk to Her”) noir-inspired drama “Broken Embraces” is the story of a love triangle between an aspiring actress, a director, and a producer. If it were really that straightforward, however, this wouldn’t be considered a genuine Almodóvar film.
While not as brilliant as some of his past collaborative efforts between he and his muse – Academy Award winner Penelope Cruz (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”) – their work together including 1999’s “All About My Mother” and 2006’s “Volver” are always exquisitely multi-layered and cleverly-written contributions appreciated most by the art-house lover.
Almodóvar demands a lot from his audience and it’s no different with “Broken Embraces.” The complexities of his narrative begin with the introduction of a blind writer and former director named Harry Caine (Lluís Homar), who spends his time writing scripts under the dutiful eye of his agent Judit (Blanca Portillo) and her son Diego (Tamar Novas), who also helps him come up with stories.
When a mysterious writer who calls himself Ray X (Rubén Ochandiano) comes to his door and requests Harry to write a oddly familiar story with him, Harry is forced to relive some of the most joyful and painful moments of his life. Through flashbacks, Almodóvar transports us to Madrid in the early 90s when Harry – known by his real name Mateo Blanco at the time – begins his affair with Lena (Penelope Cruz), an aspiring actress trapped in a loveless relationship with Ernesto Martel (José Luis Gómez), a wealthy older gentleman who Lena lives with after he finances her ill father’s hospitalization.
Shooting a comedy called “Girls and Suitcases,” Mateo casts Lena in the lead role. Although Ernesto does not approve of his much-younger lover spending her time on a movie set, he signs off as a producer on the film so he can have her monitored at all times. As the intricate ménage a trios becomes more personal, each player in the game has something to gain and lose from their participation in the film within the film. Almodóvar treats each nuance of the story with the great precision we’ve grown accustomed to with his work.
Whether we’re talking about the crisp pallet of reds, browns and oranges that stream through each scene or the maddening traits that inhabit some of his most profound characters, Almodóvar’s attention to detail is second to none. Even when he takes some well-known Hitchcockian elements and brands them as his own do they feel fresh and exciting. “Broken Embraces” proves Almodóvar is one of the only directors working today that really known how to avoid making melodrama self-important.