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The Independent Critic

Penelope Cruz, Lluis Homar, Blanca Portilla, Rossy de Palma, Kiti Manver, Ruben Ochandiano
Pedro Almodovar
Rated R
127 Mins.
Sony Classics
Deleted Scenes, "Pedro Directs Penelope," Variety Q&A w/Penelope, "The Cannibalistic Councillor" short by Pedro, New York Film Festival Closing Night

 "Broken Embraces" Review 
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I have heard Pedro Almodovar described as an acquired taste.

Indeed, Almodovar is a cinematic taste who truly must be acquired by anyone who professes a true love for magnificent cinema. With Broken Embraces, Almodovar's fifth collaboration with muse Penelope Cruz, he paints a cinematic portrait simultaneously as delicate as a flower yet as excruciatingly painful as a dagger piercing the heart. Almodovar, it seems, is one of the few directors working today capable of such extremes without resorting to unnecessary histrionics. Almodovar's world and, indeed, the world of Broken Embraces is a world where life's emotional and experiential extremes are fully lived and felt by actors and audience alike.

Even when Almodovar creates a flawed film, as happens on occasion, his film far surpasses what is created by most filmmakers today. When Almodovar hits the mark, as he does with Broken Embraces, he rests comfortably among filmmaking's elite. Of course, this is a designation he would likely shun and deny.

That is the greatness of Almodovar.

Broken Embraces evolves around a filmmaker, Mateo Blanco (Lluis Homar), a man with a past so painfully intense that he now directs under the pseudonym of Harry Caine. He has yet another traumatic day that leads us to a flashback set in the 90's, his glory days, when he fell in love and seduced an up-and-coming actress, Lena (Penelope Cruz), and created the film Girls and Suitcases for her.

In much the same way it is difficult to describe a Hitchcock film without giving away too much of the film, the same is true for Almodovar and Broken Embraces. While his tone certainly does not match that of Hitchcock, Almodovar's way of constructing Broken Embraces is very similar with twisting ironies, coincidences and character shadowing throughout the film's 127-minute run time. Almodovar's filmmaking is so smooth, so subtle that it takes two viewings to fully appreciate the fullness of the film that unfolds here. He even, in the most quiet of ways, plays off one of his own previous films in a way that may very well go unnoticed by the untrained eye.

Those of you who know Cruz from her early days struggling to get by in English-speaking roles are likely to be awestruck by the sheer wonder and beauty of her Spanish-language performance here. Cruz's characterization is so complete, so strong that one nearly forgets that she is not speaking English. Cruz so wholly embodies Lena that the language itself almost becomes irrelevant as Lena seems to be speaking a universal language easily understood by all.

The rest of the cast shines as well, especially Homar as the devastatingly broken director for whom life has never been the same as it once was for a brief, shining flicker. This shining flicker is radiated in the camera work of Rodrigo Pieto, who seems to have created a mind meld with Almodovar and perfectly companions Almodovar's words and images with images simultaneously electrifying and meditative.

There are films that, in a sense, that defy description and Broken Embraces is such a film. There aren't words that adequately can share with you what it is like to view Broken Embraces. It is a film you must experience for yourself.


You MUST experience Broken Embraces for yourself when it is released on DVD and Blu-Ray this March 16th!

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic