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At the Movies: Broken Embraces 2 1/2 stars: A Broken Compromise

Pedro Almodovar’s newest film, Broken Embraces, is another addition to his mystery-flashback formula that he has utilized so diligently. Much of the Spanish director’s work is assembled like a jigsaw, revealing portions of the story for particular functions. As the writer/director, he is very precise in his reasoning for all aspects of the film, especially the journey of the audience. Watching an Almodovar film is like witnessing an artist applying layers of paint across a canvass, the story unraveling behind a beautifully vibrant screen.

One feature that Almodovar continues to embrace is that of his lead actress, Penelope Cruz, this being their fourth collaboration. It is no mystery why Cruz has become a muse for Almodovar; her cinematic beauty matches the colorful experience of his films. The interest of beauty becomes the major catalyst of Broken Embraces, drawing the viewer into Almodovar’s vivid world of obsession, love, and loss.

Playing with a noir-esq feeling, the story jumps back and forth between a decade and half of time, introducing the main players and slowly illuminating all their connections. The main focus in the beginning is on present-day screenwriter and former director Mateo (Lluis Homar), a blind man works from home with the aid of his agent, Judit, and her apprentice son, Diego. Mateo refers to himself as Harry Caine, an alias he adopted years ago for unknown reasons, publishing screenplays under his new name. It is not until he is visited by an odd man named Ray X who wants to develop a new screenplay the onion of the story begins to peel away.

In the flashbacks, we witness the struggle of a woman dealing with her ailing father and effecting career choices. Lena (Penelope Cruz) works as a secretary for a rich and powerful businessman after an unsuccessful run at acting and a stint as a call girl. Her boss, Ernesto, realizes her financial burden with her family issues and intervenes as her savior. Lena becomes involved with Ernesto and he eventually assists in financing a film directed by non other than Mateo.

Lena’s first screen shot is all it takes for Mateo to fall passionately in love with the radiant woman, leading to an affair of cataclysmic results. Ernesto’s obsession with his presumed lover becomes voyeuristic as he enlists his neglected son to become a personal videographer of Lena’s every move. The involvement of all parties leads to the disintegration of not only Mateo’s film, but also lives, and in no uncertain terms reflects the title Broken Embraces.

This film is ripe with curiosity and interweaving characters, but just never comes into fruition. Like many of Almodovar’s films, it is gorgeous visually, with colors jumping off the screen and the presence of Cruz, who is obviously extremely comfortable working with the director, but the film loses it’s passionate drive by the third act. It exemplifies Almodovar’s recent work, yet that might be the overall issue. The director becomes intent on finishing the story even though the means may be simplistic, but still film aficionados will appreciate this addition.

MARK SCHROEDER, Mirror Film Critic

Contact Mark Schroeder

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