Title: Broken Embraces (2009)
Director: Pedro Almodovar
Starring: Penelope Cruz
Pedro Almodovar is the kind of director that has a built in audience. He is lucky that way because what this means for him is that no matter what he makes, people will go see it. It might suck, it might be awesome, but people will be there automatically simply because it says "a film by Pedro Almodovar". They know what they have come to expect from Almodovar. This type of deal can be a double edge sword because audiences now expect a level of quality that you have to equal or surpass with every film. But Almodovar is the kind of filmmaker that takes extreme care with making his movies because, as he expresses on the last frames of his film Bad Education he makes his films with PASSION. A quality production is something I can always rely on when I go to the theater to see an Almodovar film. A witty script and shocking twists and turns are assured. Gripping moments of suspense are guaranteed. His films tend to have lots of mystery to them and you just know that at some point it's going to be all about "who killed who?" He does mystery in his films, Hitchcock style. A film by Almodovar is always filled with vibrant colors, poignant, spicy, dialog and yes, humor. He can orchestrate a movie moment like no other. And he likes shock. He wants to send a little bit of a shock down your spine, just to make sure that you are alive! So how was this latest film of Almodovar's? Was it all we've come to expect from him and more? Or was it not?
Almodovar, doing what he does best.
Story is about a writer named Mateo. He used to be a film director, but a terrible car accident left him blind. His career as a director was shot down. Since he can no longer see, he turns to screenwriting, which is something thats still keeps him within the film world, he can still release all his creative energies and its still something that a blind person can do. He actually becomes a very successful screenwriter. One day, a young film director who calls himself "Ray X" asks Mateo to write a script for a film that he wants to direct. Unfortunately, this young director is more than meets the eye. Who is this strange character, and what does he want with Mateo?
I went to see this film to the art house theater, where they put all the foreign films and where basically, its all adults going to the movies. It's a different experience than going to see Avatar at the mall with all the kiddies. I was having a blast, the film was good, it was involving, it was funny and intelligent. Almodovar has done it again in my book. Broken Embraces had all the things I had come to expect about an Almodovar film, the mystery, the colors, the twist, the nudity, and the witty dialog…yet something was missing. A lady that was behind me when we were coming out of the theater said: "That movie said nothing to me!" I don't know what movie she was seeing, but that movie had a lot to say! But I get her. Something was definitely off about the movie. It wasn't jaw dropingly perfect like some of his past films. For those of you looking for jaw dropingly perfect Almodovar film, I suggest you check out two films. One is Live Flesh (Carne Tremula) which is about as intense and twist filled as an Almodovar film can get in my opinion, plus the always excellent Javier Bardem plays one of the main characters. Or you can also check out Bad Education, which is his gayest and at the same time most Hitchcockian picture. If your not a homophobe, by all means, check it out.
One of the films biggest assets is the beautiful Penelope Cruz
I think that the problem with Broken Embraces is that Almodovar is in my opinion a bit guilty of falling into repetition. The twists, the betrayals, the eroticism, they are all here. Rest assured, this is very much an Almodovar film, but I would say, thematically speaking, Almodovar does need to branch out a bit. Maybe talk about something different. But anyways, style and substance in a directors career tend to repeat themselves. Any given director will do all sorts of things repeatedly in every one of his films. Almodovar is the mystery, the "who done it" nature of his films. And to get a character to be as twisted and as psychologically messed up as possible. So yeah, I guess with Broken Embraces Almodovar has fallen under that same category as Wes Anderson, where his next picture feels exactly like his last. Those of you who have seen Wes Anderson's Darjeeling Limited should understand what Im saying here. Its not that I hate Darjeeling, its beautifully shot and the art direction is superb, but you have to admit that Darjeeling Limited felt like more of the same. Same thing with Almodovar and Broken Embraces.
But don't get me wrong. This isn't a bad film in the least. Just cause it feels familiar in some ways does not make it a bad film. In fact, there are a lot of things I loved about this movie. One of the things I enjoyed the most about this particular film is that like many of his films, Almodovar once again makes a comment on the whole process of filmmaking. Same as he did with Bad Education, Broken Embraces is all about film. Actually, even more so then any of his previous films. By making his main character a film director and a writer, well, he can vent out all the frustration and difficult situations that come with making a Geronimo picture. Like the hassle of dealing with producers. Having to film something over and over again until its done right. The importance of getting the right tones in performance and dialogue. The editing process. The process of writing a screenplay and coming up with ideas, and finally, when the producers take a picture from your hands and do whatever the hell they want with it. He also comments on the sacrifices that actors have to make when they become famous. Such as having to deal with the paparazzi taking pictures, and always following them around. In one scene, Penelope Cruz walks up to the guy who is taping her and tells him "you have to stop! Okay! Stop!" In many ways, this film is a lot like Fellini's famous 8 1/2. Only not as surreal or dreamlike. So I guess, that lady at the theater was wrong. This film does "say something" to us as an audience. In this particular film, I think Almodovar is just trying to get people to understand just how taxing making a film can be on a person. The things you have to sacrifice. Its not all pretty, but like all hard work, at the end of the day, its worth it.
As is the case with most of Almodovar's films, the quality of the film itself is superb. Excellent cinematography, beautiful locations, great actors, a well written screenplay, these things are all assured. Once again, we can see just how much of a Fellini fan Almodovar is, not only are certain moments on this film Felliniesque, but Almodovar actually has one of his characters mention 8 1/2 at one point. He also shows us what a big Hitchcock fan he is, but he's demonstrated that particular influence over the years. He even demonstrates his admiration for the film Peeping Tom by mentioning the film, and also by having one of his characters behave like the main character in that film.
So in conclusion, this isn't a bad Almodovar film. It isn't his best either. But its watchable. Its very well filmed, acted and directed. It's just that in my opinion, the film was a bit more simple then what we'd expect from Almodovar. Its "light" Almodovar when compared to his earlier films. But Almodovar light is not bad, its different, but not bad.
Rating: 4 out of 5