Few film makers operating today can better Pedro AlmodÃ³var. Sleek and richly creative, rarely does the Spaniard fail to deliver. His latest is no exception. Enjoyable and engaging, Broken Embraces is another fine work from one of cinema’s most exceptional of film-makers. Stylistically rich and multifaceted, AlmodÃ³var’s latest nods to Hitchcock; 40s noir dramas and his own back-catalogue of work, in weaving together a tale of obsession, romance, jealousy and complex parental relationships.
Set partly in modern day Madrid, the chief strand of the storyline concerns itself with Mateo Blanco (Lluis Homar), a highly-respected former film director who has been forced to abandon his profession following the loss of his eyesight in an accident years earlier. In dealing with the tragedy – and the events preceding it – Mateo has assumed the pen name Harry Caine, repressing his former self in order to enjoy his life without engaging with his past.
The arrival of the mysterious Ray X (RubÃ©n Ochandiano) however, prompts Mateo to reconnect with the events of 15 years previous and reveal a past involving a doomed love affair with a beautiful aspiring actress named Lena (Penelope Cruz), the mistress of powerful millionaire Martel (Jose Luis Gomez), himself the money behind Mateo and Lena’s latest film. Shifting between the present day and 1994, these are but the bare bones of the labyrinthine plot which also contains a film within the film and everything from murder plots, suppressed secrets, drug overdoses and even vampires.
But – as with AlmodÃ³var’s Volver – the disparate elements all gradually piece together effortlessly thanks to a clever script tempered with just the right amount of diversions. Yes, there are times when it feels like AlmodÃ³var is trying to cram as much in as possible onto the canvas but – akin to a scene in the movie involving a bag of torn-apart photographs – the pieces in the puzzle eventually come together to give that fuller picture.
Cruz once again delivers a fine turn and it’s perhaps no surprise that she more often than not excels when acting in her native tongue. Her’s is a complex role and Lena switches from clumsy receptionist to high-class hooker; doting daughter to mischievous mistress and aspiring actress from one scene to the next. Cruz is particularly good in the tough role of delivering a fine performance of a below par actress in the -film within a film’ scenes. Other notable performances come from Jose Luis Gomez’s menacing millionaire and Judit GarcÃa as Mateo’s secretive yet loving producer and best friend Blanca.
If Broken Embraces does have a fault however, it lies within its running time. As AlmodÃ³var’s longest film to date – and although only just over two hours – the film certainly feels long. In particular the flashback scenes involving the filming of Mateo and Lena’s movie drag and tighter editing would have meant for a more satisfying end result. That said, such misgivings can be forgiven. A flawed AlmodÃ³var work is certainly still ahead of most of his contemporaries and enough here resonates afterwards to make for some fine post-movie conversation. Not his finest work but fine enough.
Broken Embraces is released this Friday.