Broken Embraces [Los abrazos rotos] (2009)
Starring Penélope Cruz, Blanca Portillo, Lluís Homar, Lola Dueñas, Ángela Molina, Rossy de Palma
Directed by Pedro Almodóvar
Expectations: Very high.
Pedro Almodovar is quickly becoming one of my favorite writer/directors. This is the third film I’ve seen from him and he continues to amaze me. There is a power in his words and images that is hard to find in modern cinema. The story of Broken Embraces deals primarily with a retired film director (Lluís Homar) who has gone blind. The film also flashes back 14 years to the character of Lena (Penelope Cruz), a secretary for a wealthy businessman who aspires to be an actress. The film unfolds at a slow but interesting pace, gradually intertwining the two stories with skill.
The acting all around is excellent with Penelope Cruz and Lluís Homar leading the charge. The characters they play feel like real people, full of emotions and desire. The film jumps around in time a lot, but thanks to the wonderful performances this is never a problem. The acting reflects the subtle passage of time and you can quickly grasp where the character is at the current moment in relation to what you know of the character prior. This kind of free time structure can so easily work against a film, but Almodovar plays it with skill and it helps him tell a more interesting story.
Almodovar has said that this film is his love letter to filmmaking, but it is done in such a way where it isn’t immediately clear that’s what he’s doing. Even after the film ended I was slightly puzzled about it because I felt that there was more homage to the craft in Talk to Her than this. After a couple of days of revisiting it in my mind though, I realize now how deep it runs throughout the film. Editing is one of the most important and misunderstood aspects of the filmmaking process, and it is editing here that is the key point. Broken Embraces seeks to impart how important editing is to the final product, both in plot points and in actual practice. This is one of the best edited works of 2009, running a close second to Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds.
I can’t recommend this movie or Pedro Almodovar enough. It is auteurs like him that have made me passionate about film. He is reason enough to watch foreign films if you aren’t already doing so. I can’t wait to experience more of his films.