We can allow ourselves to be enveloped by the hypnotic spell that Pedro Almodovar casts over and audience.

Broken Embraces

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


 

            There is nothing ordinary about director Pedro Almodóvar. He loves melodrama, movies, women and actresses who portray them, and he returns often to this core fascination with the intricacies of movie making. Any given audience is left on its own to follow him on his wonderful journeys. “Broken Embraces” is shot through with references to old-time filmmakers and scenes from the director’s favorite old movies. This is the fourth movie he has made with Penélope Cruz, the actress who, under Almodóvar’s mentoring, is becoming a film icon not unlike Sophia Loren.

            The director has made Cruz the focus of this story of love, jealousy, betrayal, and obsession. It’s easy to tell you that this is a movie about a writer, Mateo Blanc (Lluís Homar), later known as Harry Caine, who was blinded in an accident while making a film with Lena (Penélope Cruz). It is essential, but not so easy, to tell you how hard you must work to understand the threads that bind the characters who flood onto the screen.

            We have the blind writer, his devoted assistant Judit ( Blanca Portillio), her son Diego (Tamar Novas), Ernésto Martel, a vainglorious eel of a business tycoon (José Luis Gómez), and Ray X (Rubén Ochandiano) who is trying to finish a documentary about the making of Mateo’s unfinished movie. The relationships among these characters are cloudy and curious throughout, and they are further complicated by Almodóvar’s insistence on cutting between 1984 and the present without explanation. It is entirely up to us to fit the pieces of his puzzle together. Finally, we can allow ourselves to be enveloped by the hypnotic spell that Pedro Almodóvar casts over an audience.

            As the various resentments of the characters, one for another, become clear, we understand that this is a story of obsession – the tycoon’s with his secretary who becomes his mistress and then his wife, the writer with his script, the assistant with her boss, the producer with his film. The connecting link among them is Lena. She is both their collective illusion and their fantasy. Lluis Homar’s Mateo is a marvelous creation trying to flail his way out of blindness into the visual world he shared with Lena. José Luis Gómez’ tycoon is the symbol of the power of money; he can buy what he wants, and he wants Lena. After the purchase, he wraps her in a cocoon of hideous surveillance.

            Penélope Cruz is completely credible as real life lover for Harry and fantasy for everyone else. Watch the bathroom scene where she paints a grand portrait in just a few seconds, of the price paid for being bought. She stays the course with the beast who funds the dreams of the man she loves. It’s complicated stuff, beautifully filmed in the colors and tones so treasured by this director. The most moving truth in the film is Pedro Almodóvar’s love of movies and of Penélope Cruz as the embodiment of his emotion.

 

 


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