Friday, August 28, 2009

Broken Embraces [Los abrazos rotos] (2009)

"El Deseo presenta ..."

As soon as these three words appear on the screen, I get goosebumps all over. This is my fandom and if there is one filmmaker for whose films I would camp outside days before they are released, it would be Pedro (well, Coens too). Whatever the flaws his films might have, you always leave the cinema satisfied. And that's the key word here. His films have hardly been 'perfect' (whatever that implies), but you always get the sense that you got the maximum experience from a film. Underneath the colourful palette of his films (be it the set design, characters, dialogue, etc.) lies a great understanding of what a 'good' story is (whatever that implies too).

Broken Embraces is not his best film. In fact, I'm going so far as to say that it's his poorest effort since Live Flesh. However, it is more captivating than any 3D, SFX extravaganza that the future of cinema will throw our way. I don't want to bash special effects, or 'Hollywood' cinema - I like them as much as the next guy. But, Almodovar's films are pretty much guaranteed to move you without you realizing. Broken Embraces follows the same effortless pattern.

The plot is possibly the most convoluted that he has done: Mateo Blanco (Lluis Homar from Bad Education (2004) and Fermat's Room (2008)) is a filmmaker who is going blind. When an unexpected visitor from his past reappears, he reminisces the time when he met, worked with, and fell in love with a beautiful actress, Magdalena (Penelope Cruz in all her beauty). Almodovar plays with this narrative structure as he pleases, with flashbacks and flashforwards coming at their own pleasure. As usual there is a scene where a female character breaks down and reveals what actually happened in a scene. In this case Blanca Portillo's Judit reveals certain secrets at a dinner scene that lacks the emotional impact it probably should have had. In fact, there is a bigger reveal later on, but it's played down beautifully. 

Almodovar plays with familiarity. He makes it pretty clear that you are watching an Almodovar film. In the hands of many filmmakers this could be jarring, but seeing some old faces cropping up in all the unexpected places is a joy: Angela Molina plays Cruz's mother (she looks surprisingly old!!), Rossy de Palma appears as the grudge-filled ex-wife in the film-within-a-film, Lola Duenas has some of the funniest lines, and, of course, Chus Lampreave. No Almodovar film would be complete without Chus.

It has flaws - too many of them - but it is as heart-warming, effortless, funny, emotional, and surprising as you can expect. Not the best film of the year, but it's the most satisfying of them all.

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