Almodóvar's Broken Embraces

26th August 2009

Fans of Pedro Almodóvar will be eagerly awaiting this follow-up to his last huge hit, Volver. Milo Wakelin delves into this complex and colourful film.

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Funny, tragic, romantic and prodigiously enjoyable, Broken Embraces is Pedro Almodóvar's characteristically colourful love-letter to the world of cinema which evokes the high melodrama of Douglas Sirk as well as the multi-layered plotting of an Elmore Leonard pageturner.

Thanks in no small part to Rodrigo Prieto's luminously beautiful cinematography, Broken Embraces is also Almodovar's personal love letter to Penélope Cruz. Her performance as Lena, a struggling secretary turned movie star, lights up the screen with the kind of hypnotic radiance that has been seldom seen since the days of Technicolor.

Almodovar's technically dazzling neo-noir thriller is told from the perspective of Mateo Blanco (Lluis Homar), formerly a successful director. Blinded in a car accident, he now goes by his noirish nom de plume, Harry Caine, and works as a screenwriter, aided by his acerbic assistant Judit (a superb Blanca Portillo) and her son Diego (Tamar Novas). One day an eccentric young man, Ray X (Rubén Ochandiano) arrives with a proposal for a new film which awakens memories from Blanco's past. He declines the assignment, but when Diego is hospitalised from an accidental overdose, Blanco sits by his bedside and recounts a tragic tale of intrigue, loss, betrayal - and showbusiness.

In his former life as a director, Blanco cast Lena as the start of "Girls and Suitcases", an Audrey Hepburn-style romantic comedy (which bears more than a passing resemblance to Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) financed by Lena's obsessively amorous older lover, Martel (Jose Luis Gomez). Inevitably, Lena and Blanco fall in love, and Martel dispatches his son to film their furtive liaisons under the guise of a making-of documentary.

In one of Broken Embraces' many darkly funny scenes, Martel employs a lip-reader who deciphers footage of the lovers' intimate conversations in a deadpan monotone. This theme of film serving as an imperfect conduit for human emotion recurs throughout Broken Embraces, and soon love, loss and memory become wrapped in a world of celluloid. It turns out that Blanco has lost more than his sight, and years later, he must piece the fragments back together to recapture the emotions of the past.

It's clear that Almodovar is revelling in his chosen artform, and whilst overlong, Broken Embraces is a witty, engrossing indulgence that will delight any film lover. For fans of Penélope Cruz, it could well turn casual admiration into devoted obsession.

Broken Embraces is released in UK cinemas nationwide from Friday 28th August.

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