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Friday, November 13, 2009

BROKEN EMBRACES (LOS ABRAZOS ROTOS)

By D.E.Levine

Director: Pedro Almodovar
Writer: Pedro Almodovar
Cast: Penelope Cruz, Lluis Homar, Blanca Portillo, Jose Luis Gomez, Ruben Ochandiano, Tamar Novas, Angela Molina, Chus Lasmpreave, Kiti Manver, Lola Duenas, Mariola Fuentes, et al.
Producer: Esther Garcia
Executive Producer: Agustin Almodovar
Running Time: 128 Minutes
Country of Origin: Spain
Language: Spanish with English subtitles
Genre: Drama, Romance

As usual, Pedro Almodovar has written and directed an extraordinary film. The difference is that this particular film lacks a certain fire and focus found in the others. On the other hand, the cinematography, whether in color or black and white is stunning and brilliantly done.

Basically Broken Embraces is a movie within a movie. At the beginning, as the credits roll, we see lighting doubles being replaced with Penelope Cruz and Lluis Homar. Since the actors have not yet stepped into their roles are we to assume that movies double life?

Blind Spanish screenwriter Harry Caine is informed of the death of Ernesto Martel, an industrialist who once produced a film of his. Caine, who used to be a director named Mateo Blanco, was blinded in an accident that took the life of Lena, his love and the star of his last movie (the one Martel produced). Lena was also Martel's mistress before she left him for Caine/Blanco.

The back story appears through flashbacks to 1992. Magdalena "Lena" Rivero was the secretary of a corrupt and wealthy Madrid industrialist Ernesto Martel, who fell for the wanne-be actress/call girl and made her his mistress.

While living with Martel, Lena auditions for a part in Blanco's film "Girls and Suitcases", which Martel agrees to produce. Blanco and Lena fall in love. Martel is a very jealous fellow who doesn't trust Lena so he gets his son to spy on the filmmaker and the actress by saying that he's making a documentary about the making of Blanco's film.

Running the daily footage the son provides without sound, and using a lip reader to decode the conversations between Blanco and Lena, Martel discovers the feelings the actress and director have for each other and the contempt they feel for him.

Lena and Martel break up after a stay on Ibiza when she discovers him sitting with the lip reader and reviewing the footage. Lena leaves Martel both on the screen and through the sitting room door

Enraged, Martel starts a sadistic revenge which is designed to destroy Blanco. His plan causes tremendous humiliation and suffering to Lena.

Finally, while staying on the island of Lanzarote at Famara, Lena and Blanco watch Rosselini's Viaggo in Italia on TV. There is a scene where archaeologists uncover the shape of a male and female body intertwined for thousands of years while their actual bodies were burnt to ash.

Almodovar picks up on this and uses the imagery of associating ash with love later when Mateo and Lena embrace above the black sand of Golfo Beach.

When a terrible car crash occurs, blinding Mateo and killing Lena, Mateo retreats into the identity of Harry Caine, which he previously used for screenwriting credits. Almovador is telling us that Blanco died in that car crash 14 years ago on Lanzarote.

The life he lives now is one of a man who has retreated from life and he is frequently assisted by Diego, the son of his friend and former assistant, Judit. Later in the film Judit confesses to Diego that he is the offspring of her affair with Caine/Blanco and that she never told Caine/Blanco that he has a son.

The film is complex, as are most of Almodovar's films. Once again, Cruz steals the film with both her beauty portrayal of Lena proves. The other actors are all believable and make the story believable but I imagine each time a viewer sees this film they will discover another facet that Almodovar has intentionally included.