BROKEN EMBRACES, Pedro Almodóvar’s 18th feature film, shows him at the top of his game, in both the direction and writing of this fascinating romance-mystery from 2009, starring his marvelous muse Penélope Cruz, 34, in her fourth immersive role for the bold, irreverent auteur.
‘Harry Caine’ (Lluís Homar, 51) is a screenwriter, once a director. Blind, he’s attended by his longtime agent/assistant ‘Judit’ (Blanca Portillo) and her 20-something son ‘Diego’ (Tomar Novas). When ‘Ray X’ (Rubén Ochandiano), a distressing visitor from their past, appears with an idea for a film project, the story flashes back 14 years to when Harry, formerly known as ‘Mateo Blanco’, directed a movie produced by Ray’s rich and ruthless business tycoon father ‘Ernesto Martel’ (José Luis Gómez), starring Martel’s young and beautiful mistress ‘Lena’ (Cruz). How they all interact with each other, and to what purpose, cost and result, is best left to devoting 127 minutes tuned into, turned on from, and haunted by Almodovar’s masterful spin of their passions, betrayals and destinies.
“I used to be called Mateo and I was a film director. I was always tempted by the idea of being someone else, as well as myself. Living one’s life wasn’t enough, so I invented a pseudonym, Harry Caine, an adventurer who, as fate would have it, became a writer. I had him sign all the scripts and stories I wrote. For years, Mateo Blanco and Harry Caine shared the same body, mine. But a moment came when suddenly I could only be Harry Caine. I became my pseudonym. A self-made writer made by himself. There was just one unforeseen detail. Harry Caine would be a blind writer.”
Frank, funny, minutely observant, acutely painful, teasingly sexual and splendidly performed, a visual treat, emotionally raw, wonderfully handled in all respects. Part wounding melodrama with an underlay of fate-driven noir, part homage to the art of film and its consuming vitality, there’s a bit of cheeky farce, some taunting moments of unabashed lust and throughout a showcase for the cast’s fine-edged craft and the writer-director’s penetrating yet caressing examination of human drives: pure and base, noble and crass, certain and confused, private and universal.
Filmed in Madrid and the Canary Islands: neat locations captured by Rodrigo Prieto’s camerawork. Another strong plus is the quietly suspenseful music score from Alberto Iglesias, suggestive of Bernard Herrmann’s work for Hitchcock, but handled so subtly that it’s just a suggestion and not a steal. Well done.
Done for $18,000,000, it grossed $5,014,000 in the US, lucky American audiences share of a $31,991,660 global take. With Chus Lampreave, Carmen Machi, Lola Dueñas, Kiti Mánvere, Angela Molina and…Kira Miro: Holy Madre de Dios…