Romance and storytelling merge in wry, marvelous 'Broken Embraces'
ust and obsession, fathers and sons, storytelling and filmmaking, betrayal and redemption—all go into the Cuisinart to be whipped into a gorgeous and volatile froth in Broken Embraces, a spicy drama from Pedro Almodóvar, served with a side of wryness. It's hard not to fall into gastronomical adjectives to describe this film: every frame looks good enough to eat (full of popsicle colors and striking compositions) and every performance is delectable, however small.
Lluis Homar anchors the story as Mateo, a Spanish filmmaker with a split identity. Blinded in an accident 14 years earlier, he's lost himself as a visual artist, but continues to write scripts under his longtime pseudonym, Harry Caine. The great Blanca Portillo is earnest and edgy as Judit, his loyal producer and gal Friday. Her son Diego (an appealing Tamar Novas) helps Mateo transcribe his scripts, between night gigs deejaying at a local disco.
But Mateo's carefully reorganized world threatens to collapse with the arrival of an old acquaintance calling himself "Ray X" (Rubén Ochandiano), who wants Mateo to shoot his movie about a son's revenge on his hated father. Both Judit and Mateo are shaken by the visit, but at Diego's probing, the truth begins to tumble out. It's a love triangle involving a younger, still-sighted Mateo, a powerful financier, Martel (José Luís Gómez), and Martel's mistress, Lena (Penélope Cruz, at her most vibrant and earthy), promoted from the secretarial pool after her smitten boss paid for the care of her dying father.
But being fabulously kept isn't enough for Lena; she auditions for Mateo and wins the starring role in his new film. In order to keep tabs on her, Martel puts up the financing, dispatches his son to videotape every minute Lena spends away from him, and reviews the footage every night with a lip-reader to tell him what the mutually infatuated director and star are saying to each other off-camera.
Almodóvar is nuts over the delirious art of filmic storytelling, from his artfully fragmented narrative, to a sly comparison of good vs. bad takes in the sunny, early-Almodóvar-style comedy Mateo is shooting; from the frisky brio with which Mateo and Diego concoct a vampire scenario over the keyboard, to the stunning violation of Mateo's film as an ultimate act of violence.
And while the plot keeps us on edge and enthralled, the movie is also incredibly beautiful, from a delicately tear-splashed tomato, to the black, volcanic lunar landscape of Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, to a gigantic painting of voluptuous oranges on Martel's dining room wall. Heartfelt, provocative, and brimming over with style (wait till you see how delectably Cruz is morphed into Audrey Hepburn), this is a gift to be cherished from a master of rapturous storytelling.
BROKEN EMBRACES ★★★ Watch movie trailer >>>
With Penélope Cruz, Lluis Homar, and Blanca Portillo. Written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar. Rated R. 128 minutes.
In Spanish with English subtitles.
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