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Broken Embraces

Penélope Cruz directed by Pedro Almodóvar

llicit love, dark secrets, self-reflexive cinephilia and a drop-dead gorgeous Penélope Cruz – it could only be Pedro Almodóvar. The latest homage by Spain’s greatest living auteur to his favourite latter-day leading lady, the movies and, well, himself, starts with through-the-viewfinder, grainy shots of Penélope Cruz and co-star Lluís Homar on a film set preparing for a scene; this is genuine rehearsal footage, with neither actor aware they were being filmed. If you find this a creepy violation of the artistic process, then Broken Embraces is not for you. But if you get a secret thrill from a director mining his own relationships and films in pursuit of another immaculately upholstered melodrama, then brace yourself for another of the maestro’s vise-like, taffeta-soft clinches. The web of relationships this time out, straddling two timelines – the mid-1990s and late noughties – involves, in no particular order: writer-director Mateo (Lluís Homar), in earlier times a high-flying, libidinous filmmaker, then latterly a blind recluse who takes the name Harry Caine; millionaire tycoon Ernesto Martel (José Luis Gomez); and his PA-turned-mistress Lena (Cruz). Lena yearns to be an actress and gets a role in Mateo’s latest comedy, bankrolled by her rich lover. Martel also insists that his semi-estranged, closeted son Ernesto Jr. (Rubén Ochandiano) hang out on the film set, documenting everything for an ultra-personal ‘Making Of.’ Naturally he captures the growing attraction between Mateo and Lena, unleashing passion, violence and ultimately tragedy. This doesn’t begin to encompass even half of the twists and turns in Almodóvar’s labyrinthine story, which seems to plough into major emotional signposts – Betrayal! Grief! Revenge! – like a drunk driver nailing traffic cones. It’s meaty, heady stuff, which, constantly probing the duality of filmmaking and behind-the-scenes shooting, turns into less a hall of mirrors than one giant mirror-ball, dazzling, reflecting and fragmenting Almodóvar’s usual flamboyant predilections. But what ultimately overrides these occasionally over-elaborate flourishes are Almodóvar’s abiding passion for, and belief in, cinema and how it impacts on real people and genuine emotions. He may dress up Cruz as Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe, but he breaks her like her own fully rounded, complex woman. We can re-edit our own lives, he suggests, and if Almodóvar’s leading by example, his own concoctions are simply too fun, too moving and too inventive to deny. – Leigh Singer, Channel 4 Film

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Directed by: 
Pedro Almodóvar
Running Time: 
Spanish with English Subtitles
Penélope Cruz, Blanca Portillo, Lluís Homar, Lola Dueñas, José Luis Gomez, Rubén Ochandiano
Screenplay by: 
Pedro Almodóvar, Agustín Almodóvar

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