“If you want to make a documentary you should automatically go to the fiction, and if you want to nourish your fiction you have to come back to reality.”
Jean-Luc Godard

Friday, May 17, 2013

Broken Embraces (2009): Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar's homage to filmmaking

Almodóvar's ambitious film starring Penélope Cruz and Lluís Homar


A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

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Broken Embraces (2009), directed by By Pedro Almodóvar, starring Penélope Cruz
Broken Embraces (2009) By Pedro Almodóvar
Our Rating: 7.0
IMDb Ratings: 7.2
Genre: Crime  | Romance  |  Thriller
CastPenélope Cruz, Lluís Homar, Blanca Portillo
Country: Spain
Language: Spanish | English
Runtime: 127
ColorColor

Summary: Harry Caine, a blind writer, reaches this moment in time when he has to heal his wounds from 14 years back. He was then still known by his real name, Mateo Blanco, and directing his last movie.



Broken Embraces is a 2009 romantic-drama-cum-thriller film directed by celebrated Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar. Almodóvar, undoubtedly the most influential filmmaker to have emerged out of Spain since Luis Buñuel, is ubiquitously renowned for his sui generis movies underlined by their visually stimulating cinematography (punctuated by the splashes of primary colors), erotic subject matter, heartbreaking stories, evocative background music, bizarre plot twists, arresting performances, and strong undercurrents of humor. And Broken Embraces is no different in that regard. The movie stars Penélope Cruz, Lluís Homar, Blanca Portillo, and José Luis Gómez in pivotal roles. A haunting tale of love, Broken Embraces can best be described as a strange but intriguing work of cinema that underscores the uncompromising showmanship of Almodóvar as an artist par excellence. 

Lluís Homar (as Harry Caine) and Blanco Portillo in Broken Embraces, Directed by Pedro Almodóvar
Lluís Homar (right) and Blanco Portillo in Broken Embraces
Broken Embraces presents the tale of Harry Caine (Lluís Homar)—a blind writer who once was a famed filmmaker, based out of Madrid, known by the name of Mateo Blanco. Almodóvar's film shows through the means of visually sumptuous flashbacks how Blanco’s life gets transformed forever on meeting an enigmatic young lady, the irresistibly alluring Magdalena "Lena" Rivero (Penélope Cruz). Broken Embraces highlight's Almodóvar’s love for filmmaking as well the medium, which is underlined by the following line spoken by the movie's protagonist: "No, what matters is to finish it. Films have to be finished, even if you do it blindly." Almodóvar clearly is not the first filmmaker to pay homage to cinema. Time and time again, filmmakers have used their films to express their overwhelming love for the medium: be it Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, Federico Fellini, Jean-Luc Godard, Woody Allen, Giuseppe Tornatore, Abbas Kiarostami, Robert Altman, or Martin Scorsese. 

Penélope Cruz as Magdalena "Lena" Rivero in Broken Embraces, Directed by Pedro Almodóvar
Penélope Cruz as Lena in Broken Embraces
Broken Embraces is not a masterpiece by any stretch of imagination. In fact, it's not even the Spanish filmmaker’s best film, but it does have its moments that are enough to make it a memorable watch. Almodóvar seems to have perfected his unique style by borrowing bits and pieces from the masters of cinema. Those who have followed Alfred Hitchcock's body of work closely would know that sex and humor were two of his major elements. And Almodóvar, a great fan of the Master of Suspense, too relies heavily on these two powerful elements often blending them with an equally potent weapon: social commentary. And like Hitchcock, Almodóvar loves to revisit his old works in an effort to further refine his seemingly quaint yet effective ideas. In fact, it is not very difficult for the keen-eyed viewers to spot the recurring patterns in Pedro Almodóvar's movies, just like in Hitchcock's. In Broken Embraces, the ever so ambitious Almodóvar tries to borrow and improvise upon certain ideas from his breakthrough film, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988).

Penélope Cruz (as Lena in ravsihing red dress) and José Luis Gómez in Broken Embraces, Broken embraces (2009), Directed by Pedro Almodóvar
Penélope Cruz and José Luis Gómez in Broken Embraces
While the comparisons between Hitchcock and Almodóvar are endless, one similarity that just cannot be overlooked is their insatiable love for technical mastery. There is a brilliant sequence in Broken Embraces that that underlines the remarkable quality of editing (and technical excellence) in Almodóvar's films. In the very scene, a rotating CD can be seen fading into a cylindrical staircase as the movie's protagonist climbs down the stairs. The scene is highly reminiscent of the editing techniques employed by Hitchcock in one of his early masterpieces: Sabotage (1936). 

Penélope Cruz as Magdalena "Lena" Rivero in Broken embraces (2009), shooting scene of the movie Elevator (directed by Mateo Blanco), Broken Embraces, Directed by Pedro Almodóvar
A Still from Pedro Almodóvar's Broken Embraces
Overall, Broken Embraces serves to be a guilty pleasure, if not more. Almodóvar's obsession to experiment with his old ideas in trying to collate them with the new ones ends up loading Broken Embraces with at least one plotline too many. One great way to savor Broken Embraces is see it as Almodóvar's homage to filmmaking. There is a scene towards the end of the film—for every cineaste to cherish—wherein the blind writer suddenly expresses his desire to hear Jeanne Moreau’s voice. And when the helper cheekily replies that he doesn’t have access to Moreau’s contact details, Harry Caine simply instructs him to play Louis Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows (1958) on the DVD player. Another way to appreciate the movie is to look upon it as an exercise in style. Regardless of the excesses, Broken Embraces proves to be a great film viewing experience for Almodóvar fans and also for those who understand and appreciate high quality world cinema.

Readers, please feel free to share your opinion by leaving your comments. As always your feedback is highly appreciated!  

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A Potpourri of Vestiges by author Murtaza Ali is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non Commercial-ShareAlike 4.0 License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at Contact Us.
 
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