So, for that matter, is Penélope Cruz, the Spanish auteur’s main muse and an actress who, now that she has moved past her original sex kitten persona, elevates just about everything she appears in.
A blend of Alfred Hitchcock mystery and swooning melodrama, Embraces... unfolds in the past and the present to tell a tale of illicit love, betrayal, revenge and, finally, personal and artistic triumph.
The central character is one-time filmmaker Mateo Blanco (Lluís Homar), who since being blinded in a car accident 16 years ago has written screenplays under a pseudonym.
The death of a powerful industrialist takes Mateo back to his final months as a director and the love affair that changed everything.
After years of serious films, Mateo (in flashback) decides to try romantic comedy. Financing comes from that ruthless older industrialist, Martel (José Luis Gómez), who wants his mistress Lena (Cruz) to star in the picture.
The director and his new leading lady strike sparks, the powerful sugar daddy wants revenge, and it all ends with a horrible two-car collision on a lonely stretch of road.
Mateo doesn’t just lose Lena and his eyesight. While he is recuperating, Martel brutally re-cuts Mateo’s comedic masterpiece to guarantee that his reputation is left in tatters.
It’s every filmmaker’s nightmare.
Almodóvar’s story unfolds slowly as it shifts from present to past and back again.
Particularly watchable is Rubén Ochandiano as Ray X, a vaguely sinister gay "outsider" director who hopes to collaborate with Mateo.
Sumptuously mounted and photographed, Broken Embraces might be viewed as Almodóvar’s tribute to the heyday of Hollywood studio filmmaking. Cruz’s erotic screen presence evokes memories of Ava Gardner or Hedy Lamarr.
The film’s main shortcoming is that it’s too cerebral. In recent films like The Flower of My Secret, All About My Mother and Talk to Her, Almodóvar has fashioned terrifically touching emotional landscapes. By comparison, Broken Embraces seems cool and calculated, more focused on style than feeling.
Nevertheless, every frame of this movie illustrates the care that has gone into it.
Other films in the series “Almodóvar's Women”
Saturdays at 2:00 p.m.:
- March 2: The Flower of My Secret (1995) Rated R
- March 9: Broken Embraces (2009) Rated R
- March 16: All About My Mother (1999) Rated R
- March 23: The Skin I Live In (2011) Rated R
Admission to these films is free.
About the Author
Robert W. Butler is a lifelong Kansas City area resident, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East High School and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. For several decades he was the movie editor of the Kansas City Star; he now writes a movie-themed blog at butlerscinemascene.com. He joined the Library's Public Affairs team in 2012.