Broken Embraces (Los abrazos rotos), the new “melodrama noir” from one of the best directors working today, Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, has enough of his signature trademarks in his newest film to please his many avid fans: the outrageous sultry moments, the slick cinematography, and a playful amount of exquisite color. The film opens this Friday, Christmas Day, at the Uptown Theatre.
In most of the director’s finest works women seem to always be the cause of and the solution to all problems, and Broken Embraces is no different. Returning for her fourth collaboration with Almodóvar, Penelope Cruz adds another charismatic performance to her suddenly growing résumé of challenging roles.
Describing an Almodóvar storyline is never an easy task. Each film is typically filled with multiple interwoven narratives, which can become bewildering upon first viewing for most of the director’s films; they require multiple viewings. Almodóvar is also one who has never been shy of any taboo subject matter or outrageous situations (sometimes, in fact, bordering on absurdity), and he’s a master of giving his viewers what they crave most in his films: wild characters and a humdinger of a story. Broken Embraces feels like a personal best for Almodóvar for the first 90 minutes but slowly comes apart in the last 30 minutes by drawing out a few loose ends and taking its ending a little too seriously. Still, it qualifies as a ripe entry in his impressive filmography.
Since going blind from a car accident 14 years earlier, Mateo Blanco (Lluis Homar) a former film director, has now been going under the pseudonym Harry Caine and working as a writer. Caine, who rarely responds to “Mateo” any more, still gets help from Judit (Blanca Portillo), his former manager, and her son Diego (Tamar Novas), who helps him with his writing. Shortly after Caine develops a new script idea with Diego, Diego asks Caine about the days when he was known as Mateo. When Diego finds a picture of Lena (Cruz) in Caine’s dresser drawer, Harry decides to revisit his past and begins to tell Diego about his days as a director. Right around this time, Harry is also approached by a young ambitious film director simply known as “Ray X” (a spooky Ruben Ochandiano), who wants to invite Caine back not only into Caine’s past by into his own too. “Ray X” made a documentary film that he believes Harry remembers and would like to have Harry help him with a new fiction film. The last film Harry directed was called Girls & Suitcases (a nod to Almodóvar’s own breakthrough film, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) and starred Lena. At the start of the film shoot, Lena was involved with her wealthy employer, Ernesto Martel (Jose Luis Gomez), but he was also the producer on the film, and Lena was having an affair with Mateo during the shooting.
Despite its mysterious and tricky ways, Broken Embraces has plenty of beauty. A spectacular love scene with Ernesto and Lena at a countryside villa with a white bed sheet covering them is executed to perfection. The story has several “soap opera noir” scenes and makes each one count, especially the scene where we learn the true identity of “Ray X”—not that it’s a huge mystery.
Broken Embraces may not be Almodóvar’s best film or his most serious to date, but I’d take watching any Almodóvar film multiple times over getting stuck seeing any Michael Bay film even once.