Rated R for sexual content, language and some drug material, 127 minutes
In Spanish with English subtitles
Cruz and Almodovar a great team (again) in the enchanting "Broken Embraces"
Pedro Almodovar is one of the most prolific Spanish directors of this generation, and when retrospectives are shown of his career, his muse Penelope Cruz will be an important part of that. They team up again in the engaging, captivating new Spanish dramedy "Broken Embraces" and after this poignant effort, they should work together more often. Almodovar's appeal lies in the fact he can weave a mesmerizing storyline even when it's really a glossy soap opera along the lines of those fun Spanish/Mexican telenovelas.
A blind screenwriter named Harry Caine (Lluis Homar) spends his days flirting with women, doing a little writing and having long talks with Diego (Tamar Novas), the son of an old friend from his moviemaking days (Blanca Portillo). When a mysterious young man named Ray X (Ruben Ochandiano) shows up wanting him to make a movie, Harry, previously known as a movie director named Mateo, reaches back into his past to deal with the pain of an tragic romance with a young actress and secretary named Lena (Cruz), who was also involved with an abusive older rich businessman named Martel (Jose Luis Gomez). With all their stories intertwined, they must deal with the pain and tragedy of their past, which will help propel Harry back to his first love.
"Broken Embraces" is trashy Spanish soap opera done at its best and emotionally charged as only as Almodovar can do it. It's not quite on the level of greatness of his classic work such as "Talk to Her" and "All About My Mother," but it's still highly watchable, mainly due to the delectable Oscar-winning Cruz (her third film with the director) in a scorching turn, giving a holiday one-two punch with this film and a smokin' hot turn in the musical "Nine," which she's already gaining accolades for.
"Broken Embraces" starts of with a slower, slightly middling first act going back and forth between flashbacks, but gains steadier footing once it stays in the past and delves into the Lena and Harry's backstory. Essentially, this is Cruz's film and her sexy turn here is just as good, if not better, than "Nine" and with a larger, meatier role. The rest of the Spanish cast (but largely unknown) does well too, including a strong turn from Portillo (you may remember her from "Volver," also with Cruz), along with Gomez as the appalling older businessman who falls in love in Lena.
The last act is the most fun as it veers toward the melodramtic ("...just one more thing" says one character several times) when secrets are finally revealed and we get a chance to see the hiliarious but interesting film that Harry/Mateo never finished - "Girls and Suitcases" - something only Almodovar can do. The material isn't as compelling as Almodovar's past efforts, but it's still affecting, rarely dull and fascinating how Almodovar can coherently weave multiple storylines together into a single story.
"Broken Embraces" comes highly recommended for the lovely, sexy Cruz alone and is a shoo-in for the Best Foreign Language Academy Award.