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Friday, December 18, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW
Broken Embraces (Los Abrazos Rotos)

Realms Of Sensuality And Emotion, Via Wounded Eye


Blanca Portillo as Judit and Lluís Homar as Mateo/Harry in Pedro Almodóvar's  new film "Broken Embraces".  Sony Classics

By Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com
Friday, December 18, 2009

The muse is still Cruz.

Pedro and Penélope.  Pedro Almodóvar's latest drama "Broken Embraces" isn't his very best but any Almodóvar film is better than many filmmakers' best efforts.  The film opened today in San Francisco at the Clay Theater and elsewhere, expanding everywhere next Friday, with its continuing run in New York and Los Angeles.

Set in Spain, "Broken Embraces" chronicles memories of a vibrant life of love and passion before blindness.  These episodes are experienced by Mateo Blanco, a film director-turned-writer (Lluís Homar).  So wounded is Mateo that he goes by a written character's name, Harry Cain (read: hurricane).  The woman etched in Harry's fond memories is Lena (Ms. Cruz), a secretary and actress with whom he had a torrid love affair in the mid-1990s.  Lena is currently married to Ernesto (José Luis Gómez), a businessman 30 years her senior.  Harry meanwhile, has a son, Diego (Tamar Novas) and an agent, Judit (Blanca Portillo).  And there's a mysterious young man named Ray X (think X-Ray) played by Ruben Ochandiano, who desperately wants to make a film with Harry, who looks worn down by his own disability.

Mr. Almodóvar fills his colorful visual canvas with deep emotion and swirling, vigorous passion, all well-executed in the camerawork (beautiful cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto) and direction to such a degree that it's occasionally disturbing.  In one scene for example, two bodies writhe around trapped beneath white sheets as if dead souls or ghosts; invisible and close yet very far away, both from each other and the audience.

And "Broken Embraces" represents just that -- a contradiction between emotional closeness and endless distance.  Each character has a sensory impairment, whether real or symbolic, representing the inability to either pull away from or get close to someone who means more to them than they know.  Mr. Almodóvar, like his actors, keeps us very close but often far away in numerous moments, some of them tragic, others electric with spontaneity, but all of them effective in creating mood.  The camera, as well as character, captures fractured emotion, truncating and filtering it cleverly.

The push-pull dynamic of intimacy and longing in "Broken Embraces" is more interesting than frustrating (even with the film's frequent flashbacks to the mid-1990s and forward to 2008).  This discordant rhythm of fragments serves to percolate the drama that Almodóvar films are packed with.  You get the feeling however, that several characters are left behind or made peripheral spectators until the tricky melodramatic climax in the third act, which has trouble selling its justification to the audience.  As a result the story's resolution feels sudden and forced.

Nonetheless, you can tell that "Broken Embraces" is one of Mr. Almodóvar's most deeply personal efforts, evidence of a love letter to his favorite collaborator.  The parallels between the filmmaker and Harry, a man trying to complete his final film but so smitten with his leading lady that he can't see straight, are telling.  Through scenes melancholic and sanguine film references dot the landscape.  Simply put -- and to no one's surprise -- Mr. Almodóvar loves cinema and his native Spain.

Penélope Cruz does a fine job as Lena and Mr. Almodóvar makes her iconic, bringing her into the guise of Audrey Hepburn in several montage shots.  He dresses her in red, his favorite color (ala Bergman) and she does the rest.  Ms. Cruz looks more a woman than a girl here, and watching her you feel she's matured in both body and performance.  Less a center of the film than the object of it, Ms. Cruz leaves a memorable imprint.  Lluís Homar is great as Mateo/Harry, his intoned narration echoing a sense of tragedy over his circumstances rather than regret. 

Above all though, Alberto Iglesias' beautiful music score is the real star of "Broken Embraces".  It's hard to remember a score so beautiful, soothing and haunting as this one.  Listening to it as the closing credits arrive is mandatory.

With: Ángela Molina, Chus Lampreave, Kiti Manver, Lola Dueñas, Mariola Fuentes, Carmen Machi, Kira Miró, Rossy de Palma, Alejo Sauras.

"Broken Embraces" (Los Abrazos Rotos) is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for sexual content, language and some drug material.  In Spanish language with English subtitles.  The film's running time is two hours and seven minutes.

  Trailer: "Broken Embraces"


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