Sony // 2009 // 127 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Daniel Kelly (Retired) // March 8th, 2010
A tale of sex, secrets and cinema.
This is the 17th film by Pedro Almodóvar, easily one of the most influential and popular Spanish directors of all time. Having hit such a strong note with 2006's Volver, some people were disappointed with and suggested Broken Embraces was just the filmmaker treading water and attempting precious little brave or new. The film does have a number of striking similarities with Almodóvar's past work but that doesn't make it any less of an achievement; this is an immensely satisfying and well-made drama. Filmed beautifully by its legendary helmer and filled with gripping performances and a complex plot, Broken Embraces is a major success and worthy of more accolades and acclaim than it managed to garner.
Reciting the plot of Broken Embraces is a tough task. The film's structure is dense and layered beyond a singular linear narrative, making it hard to summarize in just a few sentences. Essentially it boils down to a blinded filmmaker recounting the creation of his last movie, how it led to a steamy love affair and how that in turn caused him to lose his eyesight. Broken Embraces is a twisty beast with a strong group of complex characters and so it's only fair to point out my attempts at recounting the premise do the film nothing but a grand disservice. Trust me, this really does have a terrifically rewarding storyline and you'll not be disappointed.
The performances in Broken Embraces coupled with the aggressively brilliant story are what make the film such a joy. Almodóvar has compiled a rich tapestry of thespians to bring his characters to life and each does a storming job. Penelope Cruz (Volver) is more of a supporting figure despite her face featuring heavily in the marketing, but even in a smaller role she does stunning work. Having teamed with her before, it's only right to suspect Almodóvar knows how to best deploy Cruz and here in her depiction of a newbie actress about to embark on an epic love affair, she's electric. Cruz turns her character into a highly likable and sympathetic screen persona without dousing the passion and fiery temperament she brings to most of her work. It's a superb performance, but one that's matched by Lluis Homar (Body Armour) portraying the blinded director Harry Caine. Homar is without a doubt the main character in the motion picture and his performance is nuanced and skillfully balanced. The actor has to portray the actor in two different eras (the early '90s and 2008), but he does a marvelous job of developing his personality over the years and cooking up a spicy chemistry with Cruz. A special mention should also go to José Luis Gómez (Goya's Ghosts) who plays Cruz's older and controlling lover. His reaction to seeing his girlfriend embark on a relationship with another man is organic and almost saddening, despite the character's obvious and slightly unnerving flaws.
The screenplay is excellent and takes a promising idea in very interesting and engaging directions. Nothing about the story is obvious or strained; every plot turn feels surprisingly logical and every emotional motive is smooth and believable. The various relationships are well acted but also tightly constructed, allowing the audience to fully invest in the story unfolding before their eyes. Almodóvar gets the emotional responses he wants from every sequence, and whilst at times the film gets a bit baggy and indulgent, overall this a remarkable and fascinating cinematic experience, rich in ideas and affecting moments of tragedy. The film, of course, is really about love, and its depiction of paranoid but raw lust is fascinating and tantalizing from start to finish. The project also keeps a few tricky and shocking revelations up its sleeve for later and ends on a touching and delightfully poignant note. Fans of poetic and subtle finishes will revel in the understated yet wondrous way Almodóvar concludes this venture.
The movie looks beautiful, boasting a great score and some handsome cinematography. Almodóvar has long been established with awe inspiringly potent shot construction and gorgeous moments of emotional clarity. There are plenty of passionate and nicely handled love scenes in the movie; all of which are expertly used to carve out a mood and reinforce growing character dynamics. Sony has presented the film wonderfully on disc; the video is vibrant and popping with detail whilst the audio balances the dialogue and melodic score harmoniously. The extra features are a little less worthy of celebration, however. On the surface it appears Sony has provided a decent selection of added content but in actual fact things are less impressive than they initially seem. The featurettes don't actually offer much insight into the movie and none of them runs for any longer than seven minutes. A Q&A with Cruz has its moments but at just over five minutes feels a bit brief and ineffective. Three deleted scenes are also available on the disc as is an underwhelming short film. Overall the film has been given a superlative transfer but the bonus content only induces a meh.
I really enjoyed the film and appreciate it as a rich and wonderfully shot offering of art. The performances are awesome and Almodóvar continues to impress; any love lost over this film with the critics is simply a case of them expecting too much. The film looks shiny and pristine on DVD but be warned, the added content isn't really up to snuff.
Broken Embraces is free to go. Not once during my viewing was its innocence called into question; it's a deliciously raw and powerful cinematic experience.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 127 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Short Film