Saturday, December 12, 2009

BROKEN EMBRACES (2009)


Written & Directed by Pedro Almodovar



Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA, December 11, 2009 7:35PM



Harry Caine is a blind writer currently living in Madrid but he is also Mateo Blanco who, years ago, was a film director. We find out how this happened in the latest film by Mr. Almodovar, "Broken Embraces" which mixes film noir, high drama, outrageous humor, classic Hollywood and his first major success, "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" (1988) to create another one of his beautifully unique cinematic visions.

We meet Harry (Lluis Homar) who has just finished seducing a beautiful young lady, when his long time agent and friend, Judit (Blanca Portillo) comes in to the apartment to check on him. After the girl departs, Judit's son, Diego (Tamar Novas) arrives. Diego assists Harry in writing his movie scripts.

While working, Harry hears from the television that wealthy businessman, Ernesto Martel (Jose Luis Gomez) has died. The name brings back memories to Harry and we are taken back to 1992.
We meet Lena Rivas, (Penelope Cruz) Mr. Martel's secretary. Her father is dying of cancer and she cannot afford the care he needs. She calls a madam that sets up jobs for her as a prostitute when she is in desperate need of cash.

When the client calls Lena to set up an appointment, she realises it is her boss, Mr. Martel. She quickly hangs up on him. The madam informs Lena that he was well aware of her part-time activities and insisted she call him if Lena arranged for any work. Lena decides to use this to her advantage to help her family and becomes Mr. Martel's mistress.

We are back in the present and a strange young man who calls himself, Ray X (Ruben Ochandiano) pays Harry a visit. Ray X is a film maker and wants Harry to write a scandalous screenplay for him based on Ernesto Martel to film. Harry turns him down but he recognizes his voice. Harry has Diego go through some old photos and discovers that Ray X is actually Ernesto Martel, Jr. We also see a photo of Lena.

This takes us back to 1994, when Harry is Mateo and he is in the process of making his new film, "Chicas y Maletas" which just happens to be very similar to Mr. Almodovar's classic film. Mateo is searching for a leading lady and Lena, who has always wanted to be an actress, auditions. She takes the nerdy and flamboyant Ernesto Jr. with her to film her audition. Mateo is captivated by Lena and hires her immediately.

Ernesto Sr. is obsessed with Lena and doesn't want to share her with anyone. He is against the idea of her making the film but Lena insists. He wants to make her happy, so he decides to become a producer on the film. This way he can be close and keep a eye of Lena. He also has his son follow her around and videotape everything she does. Mr. Martel watches the footage later with the help of a lip reader (Lena Duenas) to inform him of every word that is spoken to Lena.

Despite Mr. Martel's erratic behavior, this doesn't stop Mateo and Lena from beginning an intense and passionate affair. They manage to distract Ernesto Jr. long enough so they can have brief moments together but soon Mr. Martel catches the love birds. Lena tells Mr. Martel that she is leaving him and he retaliates by pushing her down the stairs. He rushes her to the hospital and begs her for forgiveness.

Lena still wants to leave Mr. Martel but he threatens to pull the plug on the movie if she does. She decides to stay until the film is complete. Once the film is done, Lena and Mateo run off to the Canary Islands to start a new life. Everything is perfect in a perfect, new location until they discover an advertisement announcing the movie premiere of "Chicas y Maletas" They know this is just a way for Mr. Martel to get them to come back to Madrid. They resist until they read that the film has received many bad reviews. Mateo is furious that Mr. Martel has destroyed all of his hard work, so they reluctantly decide to go back to see if they can salvage the film.

On the way back, they are involved in a terrible car accident that has very tragic results which leads to the end of Mateo Blanco and the beginning of Harry Caine. There are more secrets that are revealed before we reach the dramatic conclusion of this film and Mateo Blanco's film.

There is a lot going on in this film (perhaps a little too much) and it also feels a little long, but Mr. Almodvar has the confidence and the talent to make it all work. He is in control the entire way and he makes sure it all pays off in the end.

The director has created another great part for Ms Cruz to showcase her amazing gifts. By having her play an actress, this gives her an opportunity to show all that she is capable of, which doesn't always happen in the films she makes in Hollywood. The film has plenty of great performances, especially from Mr. Homar and from Mr. Almodovar's cast of reliable supporting players including the welcome reappearance of Rossy de Palma although it was way too brief.

I have to admit that "Broken Embraces" may not one of my favorite films by Mr. Almodovar but it is still a very good film and you should find the time to see this.