Reviews - Broken Embraces
Reviewed By John Stakes
Shot in the style of a 1950s hard-boiled American film-noir, the cast included many of the director’s regulars in addition to Cruz who was making her fourth appearance in front of his camera. If the expected convoluted plot were not enough Almodovar even pays homage to one of his earlier works “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” by re-working it in his “film within a film” scenario around which the plot develops.
In the best traditions of film noir the complex plot denies easy explanation or analysis. Basically the film is set in the present day with flashbacks to the nineties in which a four way tale of dangerous love is played out. “Harry Caine” (the pseudonym of writer Mateo Blanco and the name under which Blanco is currently living) is blind and living with his PA Judit and her grown up son Diego.
Gradually present day events trigger memories of “Harry’s” past. Diego is hospitalised after an accidental drug overdose and “Harry” decides to look after him whilst his mother is away. “Harry” tells Diego about his past life when he was living under his real name and working as a film director (is Almodovar part reinventing his own past perhaps as his preoccupation with his leading lady is well documented?). He starts an affair with femme fatale Lena the muse of millionaire financier Ernesto Martel (a magnificent performance from Jose Luis Gomez) who is bankrolling Blanco’s film.
Jealous Martel plants his obsessive gay son on set to record the production under the guise of making a documentary about the film and engages a lip reader to complete his surveillance. There is little time for the characters to establish themselves as the plot ploughs on and Lena survives a push downstairs by Martel who then takes charge of her nursing. Lena and Mateo manage to escape to Lanzarote and hope that they have covered their tracks. Fate as ever intervenes and he and Lena are involved in a car crash which leaves Lena dead and Mateo blind. From this point Mateo adopts his pseudonym of “Harry” choosing to assuage his pain by living as his fictional self.
Meanwhile (for those still following the plot) back in the present as it were, Judit confesses that she gave Martel the number of the hotel in Lanzarote and reveals to Diego that “Harry” is his father. It transpires that Martel also sabotaged Mateo’s film by using the worst “takes” to produce a stinker of a movie. Luckily Judit has the original tapes and “Harry” is inspired to resume his real name and piece together his life by restoring the lost footage and re-releasing his film.
This, Almodovar’s 17th film, was in competition for the Palme d’or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and no doubt deserved its acclaim. Cruz shines throughout and dominates the screen at every twist and turn of her performance. Her screen presence is nothing short of sensational combining stunning looks with an astonishing acting range and a performance laced with a refreshing honesty. She can do a telling glance better than anyone (that’s how it should be done Claire Denis) and her bedroom scene with Martel was alone worth the admission price.
Almodovar, as with many other notable film-makers, here deploys his considerable skills to demonstrate his love affair with the silver screen and it is only in the last few minutes that he lessens his grip and pace as the exposition of the plot takes over from the drama. But this minor quibble apart, “Broken Embraces” is an enthralling and highly entertaining film packed with directorial flourishes and hugely popular with the large audience thankful no doubt to find such a wonderful distraction from the elements at work outside.
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