Tuesday, March 30, 2010

BROKEN EMBRACES (Pedro Almodovar, 2009, Spain)

Doppelganger Harry Caine is caught in a blinding hurricane of jealousy, betrayal, and revenge. Pedro Almodovar’s celluloid confection is devilishly sweetened with artifice but containing mostly empty calories. Though technically brilliant, the characters are self-aggrandizing contrivances to forward the mundane plot toward its redacting climax.

Almodovar’s serpentine narrative begins with the erotic acrobatics of a blind writer and the appearance of a mysterious young man who bears a grim inheritance. The film’s structure then skips backwards in time to develop the destructive relationship between millionaire Ernesto Martel, part-time prostitute Lena, and filmmaker Mateo Blanco; Mateo will alter assume a new identity as Harry Caine to shelter him from the awful truth and begin life anew. As a Director, Mateo was in control of his life with the power to edit and compose his reality; as a writer, Harry’s prose restructures his life with denial and lies. BROKEN EMBRACES is about this physical and emotional journey, and the pain of self-discovery. When Mateo could see he was blind; when Harry sheds his fiction his eyes remain blinded but he is learning to see.

Almodovar is able to make the artificial seem authentic with vivid cinematography and a complex narrative structure that imposes a film within a film, referencing his own work. Penelope Cruz and Lluis Homar deftly assume their parts and follow Almodovar’s diction: it’s just that they’re written as bland artifacts. The plot twists and turns but leads the story to a well-known destination, neither revealing a new insight nor concealing one. The pacing is monotonous and top-heavy with dialogue and becomes unbalanced with a few wonderful compositions. BROKEN EMBRACES is a flawed recipe that doesn‘t quite satisfy your craving. Final Grade: (B-)

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