Thursday, January 7, 2010

Broken Embraces (2009)

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


Danny King said...

I really loved this film. I thought the story was very well-done, but at the present moment, this seems like somewhat of a guilty-pleasure favorite. The film is just as beautiful as the lovely Penelope Cruz, and it is just so difficult not to get caught up in it all. I need to check out more Almodovar films.

Troy Olson said...

This was my first foray into Almodovar territory, and I liked it a tad bit more than you did (I gave it 4 out of 5 stars). However, as I've read reviews of it, I start to get the feeling that he's done much, much better in his other films, so I can fully understand how the "sameness" of a director's output can drag down how much one likes a specific film.

One scene I particularly loved was the scene where the first go to the coast (set to a Cat Power song, can't remember the name off the top of my head). Just a beautiful mix of music and location and Penelope Cruz (who I could stare at all day and not get tired of).

Franco Macabro said...

@Danny King: Hey Danny, if your searching for a really good Almodovar, check out Live Flesh! Its really one of his most beautiful looking films, and its intense and twist filled. Highly recommend it!

@Troy Olson: Hey Troy, you probably liked it a bit more because it was your first Almodovar film. After you see his other films you will see this one was somewhat tame. Again, just like I told DannyKing and on the review, if you want to see some of his best films, check out Live Flesh, Bad Education, All About My Mother or Talk To Her. All excellent films.

Almodovar in my opinion is kind of Fellini's student, he is obsessed with women just like Fellini, he loves film, truly appreciates what you can do and say with images and sound, you see some more Almodovar, and if you have seen your Fellini films, then you will see the connection as well.

Glad you enjoyed this film Troy. I enjoyed it a whole lot, its a beautiful film to look at and it has an excellent story.

Mark Hodgson said...

Congratulations! You've won another award - the Lovely Blog Award, from Black Hole Reviews.

Visit here to pick up your award -

Pass it on! Name your own favourite blogs and make your own awards...

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Mark Hodgson

Reina said...

Estoy de acuerdo con practicamente todo lo que dices en tu review, aunque sigo pensando que Hable con ella es su mejor pelicula, pero lo cierto es que escoger la "mejor pelicula de Almodovar " es casi imposible...Pero esas escenas de Rosario como torera estan geniales, y la locura del enfermeroooo! beautilful films indeed, come on! Give a 4 out of 5... Lets try not to compare it so much with his previous films and lets take it for what it is..a beautiful movie, with great actors ans actresses, excellent screenplay, etc..

Franco Macabro said...

You know Reina, my original rating for it was a 4. I should give it a four, you are right. That was my gut reaction to begin with.

It deserves a four, its excellent in every way, except for its redundant nature...this is not something I would normally do, but you are right. This films rating has just been upgraded to four! Sorry for the inconveniences guys, this sort of thing happens from time to time. And since it was my initial rating when I wrote the review (really cant quite place why I lowered it 1/2 a point more...) so its a four now.

Que ha muerto he dicho! :)

Franco Macabro said...

Mark, Thanks man! Thats awesome! Thats the third award Ive received this month! I guess all my hard work has finally payed off, the apreciation and recognition from my peers is the best feeling a blogger could have! Thanks again, Ill be heading over to get that award!

I Like Horror Movies said...

Any film that contains both Penelope Cruz and Peeping Tom references is an instant winner in my book, will try to give this one a shot though Im not familiar with Almodovar's work

Franco Macabro said...

This is a good place as any to start Carl, its one of his "lighter" films, but its still twisted at times. Then you can move to his darker stuff like Bad Education and Live Flesh.

ATXEIN said...

Ummm, I hate Almodovar, I think I only see one of his movies.. It´s too much overvalued here in Spain.


Franco Macabro said...

Probablemente odias a Almodovar porque el es de España, y como dicen por ahi, nadie es profeta en su propia tierra.

Para mi, el tiene un nivel de excelencia en sus peliculas muy dificil de ignorar.

Direct to Video Connoisseur said...

I just saw this last night, and even though I agreed that it was a 4 out of five stars, I'm mad at myself for missing it when it played at my local indie theater. What really struck me about it was the director who loses his sight. For Almodovar, someone who uses color and beautiful settings and beautiful women in his own work, the thought of losing his sight would be catastrohpic, and in a way, I think he's saying he would cease to exist like Mateo in Broken Embraces did, and what I loved was how through telling Diego everything that's happened, he came to terms with things and realized Mateo is more than just seeing the world with his eyes. I understand what you're saying about Almodovar's paradigm seeming stale, but I think he always has a unique message in every film, and that alone works for me.

As another note, Netflix just made Live Flesh unavailable, just before I could rent it!

Franco Macabro said...

@Direct to Video Connoisseur: Sorry I took so long to reply man! Almodovar is definetly commenting on filmmaking with Broken Embraces, the director who looses his sight is probably commenting on almodovar's fears of this happening to him as a director in real life, looses that sight, that vision that a director should always have.

Hope you get to see Live Flesh, it's one of my favorite Almodovar films, the most twisted one.

Thanks for commenting and again, sorry for the late answer, sometimes replies slip me by!


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