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Oscar 2010 REVIEW: Broken Embraces

Director: Pedro Almodovar

Cast: Penelope Cruz, Lluis Homar, Blanca Portilla, Rossy de Palma, Kiti Manver, Chus Lampreave, Lola Duenas, Angela Molina

It’s a Pedro Almodovar-Penelope Cruz combo once again (after Volver and All about My Mother ) – this fact alone is enough to trigger off anyone’s curiosity. And having loved his previous films, I simply couldn’t miss this one. But sigh…

The film: The action oscillates between two time frames: flashing back and forth between the present day and the year1994. The story starts in present-day Madrid and focuses on a writer who lives in darkness. Fourteen years ago, he had had a brutal car crash on the island of Lanzarote and had lost his eyesight. And he had lost Lena (Penelope Cruz) too, the love of his life. This man for some strange reason had enjoyed his dual identity. One, that of Harry Caine, a pseudonym with which he used to sign his literary works, stories and scripts. While the other, Mateo Blanco (Lluís Homar), is his real name, with which he lived and signed the films he directed.

After the accident, Mateo Blanco reduces himself to his pseudonym, Harry Caine. If he can’t direct films he can only survive with the idea that Mateo Blanco died on Lanzarote with his beloved Lena.

All of this is cut through with flashbacks to Lena’s story, which begins in 1992 when she’s hoodwinked into marrying her wealthy stockbroker boss, Ernesto Martel – an interesting character played by José Luis Gómez, who comes across as both ruthless and vulnerable at the same time.

Broken Embraces is a four-way tale, shot in the American film noir style of the 1950s seamlessly blended with Almodovar’s signature themes – fate, guilt, power and the eternal search of fathers for sons, and sons for fathers.

It is Almodovar’s sound technical knowledge which saves the plot and the sub-plots from becoming confusing. But sadly, it makes it rather boring in the process. For example, we get to see a pile of torn-up photos; hidden secrets; scripts about man and a vampire’s love story and cameos by a host of Almodovar regulars that could have been easily done away with. Unfortunately, Broken Embraces doesn’t reverberate with strong and powerful emotions we relish in his All About My Mother or a Volver.

The best thing about the film is of course Penelope Cruz. No wonder Almodovar loves to cast his favourite girl every time. Penelope plays the small time actress Lena who makes her presence felt every time she appears on screen. It was worth a watch to see Lena posing for still shots in a Marilyn wig in a film within the film.

There’s another scene where Martel pushes Lena from behind and she tumbles down the staircase. Penelope’s change of expression from pain to bewilderment and to submission is superb. But we still miss the radiant energy in Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona that earned her a supporting-actress Oscar last year.

But for all its gloominess, it carries a note of optimistism as we see Harry continuing his work and embracing life with his mind’s eye.

From a visual perspective, Almodovar’s film meets expectations in every respect.

The problem lies in the presentation of the characters. You just can’t feel for them and the plot fails to hold you to your seats.

To some extent Almodovar wraps you up with his painstaking attention to details and structure in such a way that we feel impressed without being particularly moved.

VERDICT: Watch it for Cruz’s scenes alone. But considering that the narrative dwells on the editing of a film, we wish it could have turned out much better with some stricter editing.

RATING: 2.5/ 5


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