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Movie Review: Broken Embraces

By Philip Martin

This article was published January 15, 2010 at 4:45 a.m.

— Fans of Pedro Almodovar’s overheated, sensualistic melodrama will not be disappointed with his latest collaboration with Penelope Cruz, the Hitchcock homage Broken Embraces. It’s an unmistakably giddy movie that makes wonderful use of Cruz, Almodovar’s current model of womanliness (this marks their fourth collaboration), as it restates (and to a degree re-purposes) the director’s familiar obsessions with genre, glamor and glossy red lipstick.

If it seems like minor Almodovar, it’s nevertheless full-throated Almodovar, alive with his tics and fetishes - a platinum wig here and a staircasethere - and a convoluted plot that resists encapsulation. It’s another movie about making movies and buried secrets, and it’s reminiscent of WoodyAllen’s midperiod masterpiece, 1989’s Crimes & Misdemeanors in its use of vision metaphors.

The protagonist is a blind screenwriter named Harry Cain (Lluis Homar) who used to be a sighted film director named Mateo Blanco. (It’s been pointed out - by RogerEbert and probably others - that “Harry Cain” can be read as a conflation of two of Orson Welles’ most famous roles, Harry Lime and Charles Foster Kane.) Some years ago Mateo directed Girls and Suitcases, a movie that starred Lena Rivas (Cruz).

The film unfolds in flashback as the blind man tells the story of the making of his final film. Lena had been the assistant and mistress of his producer, Ernesto Martel (Jose Luis Gomez), who had arranged for her to audition as a formality, never expecting Mateo would not only cast her as the lead but fall in love with her. In reprisal, Martel sends his son to spy on the couple with a video camera, to capture their trysts and screen them for him.

Almodovar dives into this knotty, plotty mess the only way he can - with utter abandon and what might be best described as a kind of artful recklessness. He creates an illusion of chaos that is thrilling and coy, and those of us who know and love him can’t help but be charmed. Others might mistake it for a mess. But it’s not - it’s a hot mess. And to understand the difference is to understand Almodovar.

MovieStyle, Pages 39 on 01/15/2010

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