Thursday, April 22, 2010

Recycled Material Cannot Mend Broken Embraces

Broken Embraces

For many directors, and audience members, there is a fine line between showing your appreciation for other’s works and overindulging in it. This is why so many people have issue with Quentin Tarantino’s films. Depending on the viewer, the originality in Tarantino’s productions can be loss amongst all his numerous winks and nods to specific genres. Pedro Almodóvar is another director, similar to Tarantino, who constantly injects his film with various references to films he love. The majority of which can be found in classic films from Hollywood’s Golden Age. Yet unlike Tarantino, Almodóvar has been more subtle about his approach, and many would say, more successful as well. Still, even a master like Pedro can fall into the realm of overindulgence as is the case with his film Broken Embraces.

Mateo Blanco and Harry Caine (Llíus Homar) share more than just a love for movies and writing. In fact they share the same body. Things are complicated even further by the fact that Mateo Blanco died fourteen years earlier. Despite Harry Caine’s, and his producing partner Judit (Blanco Portillo), best attempts to keep the circumstances surrounding Mateo’s death secret; the emergence of a young director, Ray X (Ruében Ochandiano), threatens to blow everything out of the water. Both Harry and Judit are forced to confront issues regarding Mateo’s affair with a wannabe actress named Lena (Penélope Cruz). Lena’s beauty is enough to make even the strongest man weak. Anyone lucky enough to have Lena, like Mateo and wealthy business man Ernesto (José Luis Gómez), find it extremely hard to let her go.

The thing about Broken Embraces is that the majority of it feels like a mishmash of scenes taken from better films. Heck, Almodóvar even lifts...err...reworks a scene from his own superior film, Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. While part of me was happy to see Cruz’s take on the film’s particular scene; the nostalgic moment did not enhance anything to Embraces overall plot. The film would still reach the same levels had it not been included.

This is not to say that Broken Embraces is an awful film... it is just a disappointing one. It plays more like comfort food than it does a truly satisfying meal. It is as if Almodóvar got so caught up in making a Hitchcockian film that he opted to just recycle his already well used plot devices to save time. All the classic Pedro Almodóvar themes (e.g. secrets, paternity issues, forbidden love, murder, etc.) are on display but they never excite the way you would expect it them to. The bulk of the film centers on a mystery fourteen years in the past. Unfortunately the mystery is one that will easily be solved by anyone who is familiar with Almodóvar’s previous works. It also does not help that he lays on the melodrama extra thick for this outing.

Granted even an average Almodóvar film, such as this, is still more engaging than the best works of lesser directors. The cast try their best to raise the film to the levels we have come to expect from Pedro. Penélope Cruz and Ruében Ochandiano are especially good in their respective roles. Yet even the performances can only go so far. Broken Embraces is a serviceable trip down memory lane for Almodóvar lovers but it hardly rivals his best works (i.e. All About My Mother, Volver, Talk to Her). If anything the film left made me want to revisit Almodóvar’s earlier films, such as Woman on the Verge, Live Flesh, Matador, etc., which were far more satisfying than this film.


  1. Wow, I haven't seen this yet but you're one of the first person I've read to not be raving about it. Very interesting perspective.

  2. You know what? I love this movie. i don't consider it a mystery, despite the billing and all, but I love it anyway. It's so sweeping and romantic in the classic sense, it feels so epic and so comfortable at the same time, it's flashbacks stretch forever but the end is nice and sealed, okay? I really love this movie.

    Nonetheless, good review. I get why you were disappointed.

  3. @Mike - I figured I would be in the minority on this film. I usually love Pedro's films but this one just did not live up to my personal expectations. I would say this and Bad Education are my least favourite of his films.

    @Simon - I guess I was looking for Almodóvar to bring a fresh take on this classic style of romance. Instead he played it numbers so to speak. I can see why you loved the film though. It just did not grab me the way it has most people.

  4. Well, well. A negative review for a Pedro Almodovar film. You don't see those very often.

    I haven't seen the movie as of yet however, so I can't comment on that. I just wanted to point out you unique opinion (within the sea of Almodovar love)

  5. @Edgar - Even the greats have to stumble once and a while. Although I fear knocking Pedro may automatically get me kicked out of the film lovers society. LOL


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