While film director Mateo Blanco (Lluis Homar), is making his first comedy, he falls in love with his beautiful star, Lena (Penélope Cruz), the mistress of ageing millionaire Ernesto Martel (José Luis Gómez). Ernesto's son (Rubén Ochandiano) documents the entire shoot on his video camera, some of which becomes critical information to various characters. When their affair becomes an open secret, Mateo and Lena flee to the island of Lanzarote, where Mateo is blinded and Lena is killed in a car accident. Some fourteen years later, the blinded Mateo has withdrawn into his writing pseudonym persona, Harry Caine, his Mateo persona dead. But secrets that have lain dormant since those days start tumbling out when the film's production manager, Judit (Blanca Portillo) starts confessing to both him and to her son Diego (Tamar Novas) - with whom she has been caring for Mateo.
Review by Louise Keller :
With its themes of revenge, sexual obsession, love and jealousy, Pedro Almodóvar follows his own tried and true recipe for grand melodrama in this, his latest tale in which characters spin complex webs. It's engaging and involving, although it is not Almodóvar's best work: the twists and revelations seemed oddly familiar. There's no great emotional hit, either. However, the strength of Almodóvar's films is his characters and he knows how to get us hooked on their soap-opera lives. With Penélope Cruz, his favourite leading lady centre stage, looking sexy and seriously beautiful, we are assured of a sensual ride. Additionally, there is a duality associated with each character, which occasionally is too clever for its own good.
The story is slow to get started, although the film starts with a bang when Lluís Homar's blind scriptwriter Harry Caine has a quick but passionate nude romp on the lounge with a pretty blonde stranger who has just helped him across the road. That cheeky shot of a foot with bright red polish that flops in satisfaction heralds good sex. Almodóvar is toying with us. This scene is inconsequential but ripe viewing.
We meet all the key characters in confusingly different time zones and situations as if in a jigsaw waiting to be put together. It is not until Harry starts to tell his story to Diego (Tamar Novas) that the pieces start to fit. You see Harry is really Mateo, the film director, but now he is blind, he likes the idea of being someone else. There's Harry's brusque producer Judit García (Blanca Portillo) who has a secret, Ernesto Martel (José Luis Gómez), the rich sugar daddy obsessed by Penélope Cruz's Lena. There's creepy Ray X (Rubén Ochandiano), aka Ernesto Martel Jr. who voyeuristically slinks in the shadows with a video camera to record everything. I love the scene in which the possessive and fanatical Ernesto sits with the hired lip-reader (Lola Dueñas) and watches his mistress with her lover on the big screen on the wall of his lounge room.
There is no shortage of things to talk about in this colourful, larger-than-life drama and there are moments to savour. However, the overall impact of Almodóvar's cinematic embrace is somewhat broken, which for me, is a disappointment.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The sure cinematic hand of Pedro Almodóvar falters and fumbles here as he attempts to fuse together a melodrama with a thriller plus something of a spiritual journey for his central character, Mateo - superbly portrayed by Lluis Homar. Indeed, with Penélope Cruz and some other Almodóvar regulars - including Blanca Portilla in the major support role as film director Mateo's production manager, and Lola Dueñas in a came as a lipreader - the cast is flawless.
The story is a bit laboured and borrows secret paternity riffs from Volver and All About My Mother, complicated by both a time shift and a film within a film as Mateo's comedy, Girls and Suitcases intrudes extensively on the plot. The early scenes with Penélope Cruz trying to raise money through a high class call girl business are a tad confusing and her character takes a while to win our sympathies. The soap opera elements, which Almodóvar often relies on but usually upgrades with cinematic style and depth, seem more persistent here, diluting the resonance of the emotional journey, in which the secrets are not explosive enough. That's partly the fault of the complex story telling and the fact that while the characters have a big investment in the story, the audience doesn't.
Almodóvar seems to be trying to explore how a man copes with becoming blind when his life is all about images; but he clouds the central theme with a romantic plot that is just another love triangle, and two unrelated secrets that have little impact on our emotions. But we're more interested in Lena than Mateo and what makes her tick, while the filmmaker is more focused on Mateo's journey. It's strange to be less than satisfied by an Almodóvar movie, especially these days.
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BROKEN EMBRACES (M)
Los abrazos rotos
CAST: Penélope Cruz, Lluis Homar, José Luis Gómez, Tamar Novas, Rubén Ochandiano, Blanca Portillo
PRODUCER: Esther Garcia
DIRECTOR: Pedro Almodóvar
SCRIPT: Pedro Almodóvar
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Rodrigo Prieto
EDITOR: José Salcedo
MUSIC: Alberto Iglesias
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Antxón Gómez
RUNNING TIME: 128 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount/Transmission
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2009