A luminous Penélope Cruz stars as an actress who sacrifices everything for true love in Broken Embraces, Academy Award -winning filmmaker (2003, Best Writing, Original Screenplay, Talk to Her) Pedro Almodóvar's acclaimed t... more »ale of sex, secrets and cinema. When her father becomes gravely ill, beautiful Lena (Cruz) consents to a relationship with her boss Ernesto (José Luis Gómez), a very wealthy, much-older man who pays for her father's hospitalization and provides her a lavish lifestyle. But Lena's dream is to act and soon she falls for the director of her first film - a project bankrolled by her husband to keep her near. Upon his discovery of the affair, Ernesto stops at nothing to ruin Lena's happiness.« less
Lewis P. (Turfseer) from NEW YORK, NY Reviewed on 9/12/2010...
Judicious editing could have improved Almodovar's plush but long-winded stab at neo-noir
*** This review contains spoilers ***
For me, an Almodovar film is always a mixed bag. Broken Embraces is no exception. On the plus side, you have the consistently excellent dialogue that always features interesting information. For example, at the beginning of the film, Harry Caine (formerly Mateo) with his agent and former lover, Judit, discuss adapting a true-life story about playwright Arthur Miller, who placed his mentally handicapped child in an institution. There's another scene where Harry and Diego come up with a clever idea for a new screenplay—a group of vampires who work at a blood bank. The whole idea is very creative but it goes on too long (like so many other aspects of Almodovar's scenes); and when the two add in all the sexual jokes, I just wondered, is all this necessary?
Some internet posters felt that Diego's accidental overdose was an unnecessary scene which added little to the overall plot. It did go on a bit too long but obviously served as a device to introduce the series of flashbacks which Harry relates to Diego as he tells the story of his affair with Lena. For awhile, Almodovar emulates Hitchcock, and it appears that Broken Embraces is headed for neo-noir territory. Almodovar introduces us to the enigmatic Ray X, Ernesto Martel's insecure gay son, who trails Lena and Mateo around with his camcorder while they conduct their furtive affair during the filming of Mateo's new comedy 'Chicas y Maletas'. And then there's another unique character, Lola, the lip reader who Martel hires to try and deduce what Lena and Mateo are up to.
Despite the unique setup and characters, Almodovar is unable to sustain the suspense which we would expect from a film which is modeled on Hitchcock. In a scene straight out of the 1945 tear-jerker, Leave Her to Heaven, Martel, consumed with jealousy, (and channeling Gene Tierney), pushes Lena down the stairs. The film virtually grinds to a halt after Lena and Mateo decide to flee from Madrid and Lena takes a job at a tourist hotel. Almodovar does answer one of the central questions of the film—how did Harry end up going blind? I suppose it's best that he doesn't have Martel take revenge on Harry by blinding him. It's fate that ends up doing Harry in—a chance car accident that takes his eyesight and kills Lena at the same time. Ernesto does take his revenge by cutting up 'Chicas y Maletas'.
If the car accident seems anti-climactic, the film's denouement appears even more so. Judit confesses first that Harry is Diego's father. She further confesses that she accepted money from Martel in exchange for revealing the whereabouts of Lena and Mateo while they were on the run back in 1994. This allowed Ernesto Jr. to film Mateo and Lena's last kiss before the unfortunate car accident. Judit makes it clear however, that Junior had nothing to do with the car accident—that it was simply a matter of fate. Fortunately, she saved the original takes of 'Chicas y Maletas' and Mateo and Diego get to work on re-editing the 'masterpiece'. Even better, Harry decides to dispense with his Harry altar ego and goes back to being Mateo. In that respect, Mateo's character arc is complete.
The film could have ended right there but no Almodovar has to show us scenes from the re-cut 'Chicas y Maletas'. And no, unfortunately, it's not the comic masterpiece, he would like his audience to think it is! It's just another example of Almodovar's tendency toward overkill in his overall approach toward film making.
Broken Embraces features rich cinematography with a plethora of arresting images. You also cannot go wrong with the actors here from Lluis Homar's low key but intense Harry and the over the top but thoroughly enjoyable Penelope Cruz. With some judicious editing (particularly with the final film within a film), Broken Embraces could have been a much better film. With Almodovar, too much of a good thing is not always good.
Daniel A. (Daniel) from EUGENE, OR Reviewed on 3/19/2010...
An Amazingly powerful film. One of Almodovar's best.
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"A film must be finished, even if it must be finished blind"
Nathan Andersen | Florida | 01/24/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Harry Caine is a blind screenwriter, watched over by his former production assistant, Judit, and her son, Diego. His simple routine is upset when he hears of the death of a wealthy tycoon, and is later visited by the dead man's son in disguise. Pressed by Diego to explain, Harry recounts the tragic tale of how he, then known as Mateo Blanco, had fallen in love and had an affair with the tycoon's former lover, when she played a role in a film he was then directing, and of the accident that left him blind. The story itself is convoluted but clear enough - and I can't quite understand all the complaints about the story being confusing since film noir often tells a story within a story and keeps the audience guessing. Things are resolved in the end, and nearly every loose strand is tied. This one adds to the usual complexities a reflection on cinema, and two films within the film, and explores what it takes to revisit and remake the past so as to go on living.
It is a very poignant and at times quite amusing film about memory, lies, double lives, jealousy and revenge. Beautifully filmed with the eye for vibrant color and beauty that Almodovar is known for, the film also serves as a reminder of the changes in film technology that have occurred over the past few decades, and of the changes that have taken place in Almodovar's own style as a filmmaker, given that the film within the film suggests the more melodramatic and stylized work of his past. The film within a film bears a striking resemblance to Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, the film that placed Almodovar on the world stage as one of the most intriguing of auteurs. Perhaps not among his greatest masterpieces - like All About My Mother or Talk to Her (Hable con Ella), which are my personal favorites - but still a very entertaining and provocative new film by one of the greatest living filmmakers. Highly recommended.
Update: I just saw this again and was struck by Almodovar's mastery of conflicting moods in this film - nostalgia, melancholy, hilarity, rapture, tension and suspense. Somehow it manages to be all of these without becoming muddled. The film also manages to channel a wide range of associations with other films and filmmakers while remaining thoroughly in the grasp of Almodovar and his distinctive sensibilities. On this second viewing I detected hints of Antonioni (especially L'Avventura), Hitchcock (especially Vertigo), Michael Powell (with an explicit reference to Peeping Tom), and, of course, of Almodovar's own earlier work. A beautiful and intelligent film, that holds up on multiple viewings."
Not Bad, but Stale and Underwritten in Parts.
mirasreviews | McLean, VA USA | 03/18/2010
(3 out of 5 stars)
"In "Broken Embraces", Pedro Almodovar rehashes a lot of themes and devices from his earlier films to create a pastiche that is pleasant enough but not as strong as his more daring and original works. Harry Caine (Lluis Homar) is a blind screenwriter who had been film director Mateo Blanco before he lost his sight. Now he dictates screenplays to his assistant Diego (Tamar Novas), the son of his longtime manager Judit (Blanco Portillo), who wishes Harry would write scripts for more popular genres. One day as aspiring filmmaker (Ruben Ochandiano) proposes that Harry collaborate on a script about a son who avenges himself on his detested father posthumously. That inspires Harry to tell Diego the story of how he fell in love and lost his sight 14 years earlier, a subject of which he has not spoken in all those years.
In 1994, Harry met Lena (Penelope Cruz), the beautiful mistress of financier Ernesto Martel (Jose Luis Gomez), when he directed her in her first film, a comedy called "Girls and Suitcases". They fell in love and incurred Ernesto's wrath. The film shifts back and forth, between 1994 and 2008, as Diego takes in the story, and Judit grows wary of what Harry might tell him. Harry and Lena's affair is deliberately clichéd, but I waited for Almodovar to give it his unique spin. Unfortunately, it never quite delivers. Lena seems more an object than a fully realized character, which might be fitting, as she is in Harry's memory. But as a main character, she is underwritten. Jose Luis Gomez is perfect as a man in the grip of obsession for Lena, so much so that I wish Ernesto had a more prominent role.
Sometimes Pedro Almodovar has a stroke of brilliance. And sometimes he seems to make movies because he likes making movies, even if he doesn't have anything fresh to contribute. I've seen too much of "Broken Embraces" in his other films, and it just never engages the audience. Harry and Lena's love has no spark. I could see the "surprises" coming a mile away. Some actions seem to lack motivation. Penelope Cruz is luminous. There's never any doubt as to why she's a movie star in Almodovar's films. Jose Luis Gomez is very good, and so Blanco Portillo would be if the writing for her character were a little better. I think those familiar with Almodovar's work are going to find this one stale. But I can't really recommend it to those new to Almodovar, as you would be better off seeing the great "All About My Mother" (1999) or, if you want noir, the labyrinthine noir homage/spoof "Bad Education" (2004). In Spanish with optional subtitles.
The DVD (Sony 2010): Bonus features include 3 deleted scenes, a theatrical trailer (2 min), and 4 featurettes. "The Cannibalistic Councillor" (7 min) is a scene from the fictional "Girls and Suitcases" movie, in which Chon, a woman of conservative politics and Councillor of Social Affairs, goes on about her sexual obsession and foot fetish. This is pure, hilarious Almodovar and not to be missed. There is another scene from the fictional movie among the deleted scenes. "Pedro Directs Penelope" (6 min, English subtitles) shows us what Almodovar is saying offscreen while two actresses play a scene. "On the Red Carpet: The New York Film Festival Closing Night" (3 min) has a few brief interviews. "Variety Q&A with Penelope Cruz" (6 min) is an interview of Cruz by Todd McCarthy. Subtitles are available for the film in English and French. Dubbing available in French."
A great director running over too-familiar ground
Muzzlehatch | the walls of Gormenghast | 02/19/2010
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Harry Caine (Lluis Homar) is a blind screenwriter leading a quiet life in 2008 Madrid who is brought back - rather against his will - to contemplating the events of 1994 that changed his life when one of the people intimately involved in them, a rich industrialist named Ernesto Martel (José Luis Gómez) has died. He starts to open up to his young friend Diego (Tamar Novas), the son of his agent Judit (Blanca Portillo) about Magdalena (Penélope Cruz), first an employee of Martel and then his mistress, who came into his life as a would-be actress and ended up much more. And through the telling, secrets involving Diego and his mother also come to light, tragedies and perhaps resolutions that had lain dormant for a decade and a half...
Although I don't have any truly enormous complaints about BROKEN EMBRACES, I don't have a whole lot that's really wonderful to say about it either. This feels to me like Almodóvar running on autopilot; all of the major themes of his past several films (haunting pasts, accidents and illnesses and disabilities, the life of the writer, the sacrifices women have to make) are in evidence here but there isn't much that's fresh or interesting in his handling of any of them, many of the revelations are telegraphed a mile away (if you can't figure out Diego's secret before the halfway point you probably haven't seen ten movies in your life), and the emotions seem muted and dry. There's little of his earlier trademark panache or humor, and the film seems to move relentlessly towards a fairly predetermined ending which comes off as too easy and not necessarily believable or even deserved..
Cruz and Homar probably come off the best in the central roles, maybe because they have the closest things to real characters to play, though even they feel underdeveloped. Gómez' Martel just seems like a possessive rich guy caricature, and none of the other characters register at all beyond the parts they play revolving around the central love triangle. Blanca Portillo, fantastic in VOLVER, seems wasted here - I don't have any complaints about her acting, but her role seems underwritten and bland. The director's use of color, even, strikes me as a little less impressive than usual and the film feels like it could have been set and shot just about anywhere, the feeling for place isn't all that strong.
I wasn't too too bored despite the 127 minutes that seemed like it could have easily been pared to 100 or less, so it wasn't a complete washout, and Penélope is as lovely as ever, so points there. But not enough, when all is said and done. Easily my least-favorite Almodóvar film so far; I don't mind that he keeps traveling the same roads of memory and loss -- many directors have made wonderful careers with less variation than he has typically offered in his recent work -- but I think this one just ended up a little too straight and narrow and the scenery just wasn't memorable enough. If you're a fan, it's worth a watch I guess; if you're new to the director, I'd recommend any of his other films since the late 90s before this one "
Better the second and third time....
Edwin Roman | New York City | 04/18/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I loved this film when I saw it in the big screen. It felt as if Almodovar had reached a turning point. Visually stunning, I encourage you to see this film several times for visual cues in the story."
Not Almodóvar's best, but any Almodóvar is better than most
Andy Orrock | Dallas, TX | 04/15/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Pedro Almodóvar is a singular talent, with movies that could come only from his unique hand. This isn't the masterful stuff of Volver, Talk to Her (Hable con Ella) or All About My Mother, which are his apex in my opinion. But any Almodóvar outdistances most other offerings by a fair mile. "Los Abrazos Rotos" is certainly up to his very high standards.
Of course, any pairing between Almodóvar and Penélope Cruz is bound to be magic. It's no different here. Cruz is the world's top working actress, in no small part due to their collaboration, most notably in 'Volver,' which I think stands as the top film for both of them. Regular Almodóvar players Lluís Homar (Spain's Kelsey Grammer) and Blanca Portillo are here, too, as is my personal favorite, Lola Dueñas, a quirky beauty whose slightly dizzy smile and eyes are always elicit a yelp of delight from this viewer. The only problem here is that there's not enough of her. She puts in only a cameo as a lip reader.
Speaking of cameos, Spanish beauty Kira Miró puts in an indelible one at the outset of the film. [She's not missable.] It got me thinking about a similar role she had in The Perfect Crime (El Crimen Perfecto), Álex de la Iglesia mostly unseen dark comedic masterpiece. What a country Spain is for film! If there's a Film Quality Per Capita Index (I'm inventing it), Spain tops the league table or maybe shares it with Israel.
But back to Almodóvar: true aficionados of the man's work will be thrilled to see the 'movie within a movie' slowly develop into - ta da! - a facsimile of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, complete with sleeping pills in the gazpacho. What a great, sly touch this man has."