|Broken Embraces (Spain; 127 min.)
directed by:Pedro Almodóvar
starring: Lluís Homar; Penélope Cruz; Blanca Portillo; José Luis Gómez; Tamar Novas; Rubén Ochandiano
Bruce says: "Pedro Almodóvar is on a creative treadmill and desperately needs to hop off. Nothing about BROKEN EMBRACES seems fresh and engaging. Once again his plot centers on various characters harboring secrets that they withhold from each other and that Almodóvar withholds from his audience. The main character of BROKEN EMBRACES is Harry Caine, a blind writer. How he became blind is a secret. Played convincingly by Lluís Homar (BAD EDUCATION), his performance and Almodóvar’s great cinematic style salvage the film.
"Harry Caine is looked after cared for by his agent, Judit Garcia (Blanca Portillo). Her son Diego (Tamar Novas) assists Harry in his writings. When we first see Harry he is having sex with a young woman. Judit arrives before the girl has left the apartment. Not pleased with what she sees she tells Harry, 'you can’t come home with the first person to help you cross the road.' Why should Judit care about Harry’s sex life? Harry’s good fortune is not the only surprise of the day. First word arrives that Ernesto Martel (José Luis Gómez) is dead. Next, a young man named Ray X (Rubén Ochandiano) mysteriously arrives to pitch an idea of a screenplay to Harry. His story is about an abusive, homophobic father’s relationship to his creative, sensitive son. It does not take long to figure out that the supposedly fictional father is Ernesto. Judit is terrified that Harry may actually get involved with Ray X.
"Diego is confused why his mother is afraid of Ernesto, Jr. He asks Harry to give him some historical perspective. Harry begins telling his story which leads to the flashbacks of a love triangle involving Mateo Blanco, Ernesto and a woman named Lena. Mateo was a film director and the star of his film GIRLS AND SUITCASES (a reference no doubt to Valerio Zurlini’s film, GIRL WITH A SUITCASE which launched the career of Claudia Cardinale) is Lena (Penélope Cruz), Ernesto Martel’s mistress. The film is going well until Ernesto discovers that Lena and Mateo have become lovers. When Ernesto pushes Lena down an imposing staircase, she and Mateo flee for their lives. They live incognito in the south of Spain for some time until they are found out and their lives are shattered. How they are found out is another secret. And it is not letting the cat out of the bag to reveal that Harry Caine was Mateo Blanco in his former life.
"Key to the whole story is Judit. Unfortunately her character is not as interesting as one might hope a character who is central to the plot might be. Penélope Cruz is lovely. I’ve said it before and BROKEN EMBRACES reinforces my opinion, 'Almodóvar needs help with his screenwriting.' His recent films are fun but hardly as profound as one would expect. Having recently revisited WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN, I realize that his storytelling skills by far exceed the depth of his material. 3 cats
(BROKEN EMBRACES screened at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival.)"
Diane says: "Yuk. Flat, totally unengaging screenplay, full of missed climaxes. A person finds out who their father really is...and then remembers to give someone a phone message. A character watches a video of of an accident; his epiphany is a yawn to the viewer, who has seen it two or three times before. Too much of the backstory is exposited instead of acted.
"P.S. The repeated slow and unfocussed pans between characters had us in agony. "