Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Pedro Almodovar's Broken Embraces is one of the most pleasant surprises 2009 has had to offer. The buzz surrounding it has been relatively quiet, but I came out more than impressed. It features one of the year's best ensemble casts, and although the story doesn't quite come together perfectly, it manages to be a captivating and fresh film noir. Almodovar puts his signature on every frame of this beautiful film, and I have never seen a director more expressive with his colors and tones. It is a visual feast.
At the beginning of the film, we are introduced to Harry Caine (Lluis Homar). He is blind. He is also well past his prime, but he doesn't act like it. Script ideas pour out of him left and right, and he has solid relationships with both his agent Judit (Blanca Portillo) and her son Diego (Tamar Novas). In a voice over, he mentions that "Harry Caine" is his pseudonym, and that he has given up his real name entirely. We're not sure of the significance of this at first, but events start to unfold that lead to a flashback of Harry's troubled past.
One day, he hears that Ernesto Martel (Jose Luis Gomez), an extremely wealthy financier, has passed away. He then starts to receive calls from a young, ambitious filmmaker who goes by the name of Ray X (Ruben Ochandiano). Kind of suspicious, isn't it? Harry turns down Ray's initial script idea, and Judit starts to worry that Ray may be out to exact some sort of revenge on Harry. With all of these unanswered questions, Harry has no choice but to delve into his past and see if he can unlock some of the answers.
We flashback fourteen years earlier to when Harry went by his real name of Mateo Blanco. He was a very successful filmmaker, and he had just finished the script for his new film, "Girls and Suitcases." He ends up hiring the beautiful Lena Rivas (Penelope Cruz) for the lead role in the film. These are just the characters involved, but what ensues is a fully engrossing web of betrayal and desire.
The acting here is first class. Penelope Cruz is ravishing as the conflicted, aspiring actress Lena, and she deserves far more Oscar attention than she is receiving at the present moment. Lluis Homar is just as brilliant in what is almost a dual role. In 1994, he plays a respected dramatic filmmaker trying his hand at comedy, and he has found a promising unknown actress to bring his script to life. By 2008, courtesy of a terrible incident years earlier, he is blind, living and writing behind the false name of Harry Caine. Homar's character is easily the most fascinating one the film has to offer, and he does an excellent job.
I am ashamed to admit that I am not very familiar with much of Almodovar's previous works, but this film makes me all the more anxious to start exploring his other films. His superb chemistry with Penelope Cruz, and his entire cast, is fully evident in this film. He seems to be a filmmaker of genuine taste and authenticity, although he isn't afraid to take risks. I wouldn't label Broken Embraces a safe film by any means, but it's a difficult chore to find anything wrong with it.
Few films this year have brought me into their world as well as Almodovar's does here. This one has been labeled by many as one of the director's personal "love letters to cinema," and I find it very difficult to disagree with that. He makes an enchanting film out of subtlety and nuance that, with its modest budget, packs a visual presence that most big-time blockbusters can only dream of.
After Two Lovers, The Road, Me and Orson Welles, and a few others, I feel this film is another personal favorite of mine from 2009 that is sure to be overlooked. I would encourage all of you to seek out this film, as difficult as it may be. I'm sure most people out there would pay to see anything with Penelope Cruz, but throwing in a writer/director of supreme command and authority makes this one a must-see.