Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Broken Embraces

AKA: Los Abrazos Rotos
Directed by Pedro Almodóvar.
2009. Rated R, 127 minutes.
Penélope Cruz
Lluís Homar
Blanca Portillo
Jose Luis Gómez
Rubén Ochandiano
Tamar Novas

Sometimes, really good movies aren’t really about what they seem. For instance, to borrow from Roger Ebert, really manipulating his words just a bit to fit my exact interpretation, the classic comedy Some Like it Hot pretends to be about two guys on the run from the mob, their friendship and Joe’s (Tony Curtis) romance with Sugar (Marilyn Monroe). In the end, it’s really just about sex and sexuality. Pedro Almodóvar’s Broken Embraces pulls a sleight of hand at least as impressive.

When the movie opens we meet Harry Cain (Homar) a famous screenwriter and former director who also happens to be blind. One day a frantic young man named Ray X (Ochandiano) mysteriously shows up at his door and says he wants to work with him on a script. Once he figures out who the man is, Harry then reflects on the events that led to this meeting. This is the story BE pretends to tell.

Make no mistake, it does an excellent job of pretending. Sex, jealousy and guilt swirl round and round, spinning a saucy tale. It’s fantastic melodrama, an R-rated soap opera, if you will. To pull off this part of his movie Almodóvar draws on a tour de force performance from Penélope Cruz as Lena. She’s ambitious, seemingly fearless, willing to act on her impulses – consequences be damned – and above all, beautiful. It is indeed shallow to place her looks atop the totem pole of her attributes. However, it’s precisely that which ensnares two very successful men in her constantly tangling web.

If I may digress for a moment, I’ve always felt Cruz performs better in her native Spanish language films. This is no exception. She seems more confident and free. In her American movies she appears to be efforting to enunciate in English which taxes her acting. Then again, it could just be me. Yes, subtitleophobes, this means the movie is in Spanish. Bring your reading glasses…or just switch the DVD over to the English track.

The tale of Cruz’s character and the love triangle in which she finds herself is the wool the director pulls over our eyes. What his film is about has absolutely nothing to do with her or even anyone else in the picture. Through his characters Almodóvar, who also wrote the film, uses the aforementioned themes of sex, jealousy, etc to entertain us. To entertain himself, perhaps even to elighten both himself and the audience, the entire film is an extended metaphor for something else. I won’t tell you what it is here for fear of robbing you of the joy of figuring it out yourself. Rest assured of one thing. First, the movie works on both levels so even if you never pick up on what I’m talking about, it’s a very good watch. Though, I will say he does tell us. In fact, he practically puts it in italicized, underlined bold print. After all, it’s only the most important thing.

The Opposite View: Amy Biancolli, San Francisco Chronicle

What the Internet Says: 7.2/10 on imdb.com (8/17/10), 81% on rottentomatoes.com, 76/100 on metacritic.com

MY SCORE: 9/10

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