'Broken Embraces' is the fourth film from one of the most successful collaborations in modern cinema. Writer-director Pedro Almodóvar and his muse Penélope Cruz have teamed up again for this eccentric film noir, which also features a comedy in a film within the film.
Set in the present day, the plot unfolds through the complex flashbacks of a blind film writer and director, Harry Caine (Homar). Born Matteo Blanco, he adopts his writing pseudonym following a series of tragic events in the mid-1990s. He takes us on a journey back in time to reveal the great love of his life, Lena, whom he met before a car accident robbed him of his sight.
The femme fatale becomes the star of 'Girls and Suitcases', the film within the film, which is financed by her wealthy lover, Ernesto (Gómez). Fearing Lena is slipping away from him, a jealous Ernesto arranges for his confused yet compliant son (Ochandiano) to spy on her. However when the possessive tycoon is faced with the ugly truth of Lena's affair, he lashes out violently, resulting in the young couple fleeing to Lanzarote.
Partly a film about love - both sexual and familial - and partly a film about film, Almodóvar injects a generous amount of comedy to keep audiences entertained. He reveals much about the filmmaking process, artistic desire and the attraction of the industry. In these 'Twilight' and vampire-obsessed times, he even pokes fun at the popular gore genre in a very humorous scene.
Renowned for in-film references to both his own cinematic creations ('Girls and Suitcases' is based on 'Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown') and the classic films of others, Almodóvar turns to Roberto Rossellini's 'Journey to Italy' for the film's most important analogy. When Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders stumble across a Pompeii couple who were turned to ash while sleeping in each other’s arms, Matteo jumps up to mirror the image with Lena, photographing an eternal embrace of their own.
However in an attempt to ruin every shred of evidence of their relationship, someone destroys the photographs, resulting in the ‘Broken Embraces’ of the title.
Following Cruz's Oscar-nominated performance in 'Volver', once again there is no doubt that this is her film. She takes on many guises: an actress posing as Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe, a seductress, lover, mother-figure, two-timer and victim - her beauty only eclipsed by her performance.
Another of Almodóvar's actresses, ‘Volver’s Judit García, also returns to star opposite Cruz and delivers an equally enthralling performance as Matteo's bitter-tongued friend and agent.
The cinematography is wonderful, the bright psychedelic colours of the in-film comedy contrasted with the more saturated palette of the 'real' world. The stark, unmistakable landscape of Lanzarote is the perfect location for the broken embraces analogy.
Renowned for his rich characters, Almodóvar doesn’t shy away from investigating their desires but does not judge their choices along the way, regardless of the consequences of their betrayals, adulteries or revenge. His script is witty and pacey right up until the end, where he resists the final curtain and drags things out.
Accompanied by a beautiful score, his longest and most expensive film to date may not have reached the spectacular heights of ‘Volver’- his best film to date - but is certainly a rewarding watch.