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Film Review by Sally Campbell, September 2009
Director: Pedro Almodovar; Release date: out now
Pedro Almodovar's latest film, Broken Embraces, is a self-referential meditation on filmmaking starring his muse, Penelope Cruz, and dealing in all the melodrama, sex and death that we have come to expect (and love) from the Spanish master.
The story begins in the present as former film director Mateo (Lluis Homar) tells the story of the film which ended his career back in the mid-1990s, leading to an accident which left him blind. We meet the star of that film, Lena (Cruz), a beautiful would-be actress trapped into marrying her wealthy tycoon boss, Martel (Jose Luis Gomez), and Martel's disturbed son, Ernesto Jr.
So we already have a filmmaker, whose general conversation in the present is full of references to films, talking about making a film, Girls and Suitcases (which looks a lot like Almodovar's 1980s comedy Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown), plus Ernesto Jr sent in to film a "making of" documentary so Martel can spy on his young wife.
Honestly, it's not as confusing as it sounds - the moods and colours separate the two time periods so you can jump between them effortlessly without losing the plot. The bright reds and oranges leap out at you from the screen, as does Penelope Cruz's face as she is posed for the cameras - now as Marilyn, now as Audrey Hepburn. We meet her as a PA and as a loving daughter, and by night as an occasional high-class prostitute.
As she falls into an affair with Mateo, we also watch Martel watching her in the daily spy footage taken by his son. This leads to some brilliantly funny scenes as the sound fails and he employs a lip reader to fill in Lena and Mateo's illicit conversations.
Illness is a constant theme, as half the characters end up in hospital at some point. Almodovar apparently suffered a series of migraines, which made him think about how a blind filmmaker could operate. This film feels like he is looking back on his own work and themes which have run through it, rather than any new ideas. For that reason, it may appeal more to fans than to those new to Almodovar.
This is a film about illness, passion, tragedy and things torn apart - but also about how things can be put back together. When a story is only partly told it can appear fragmented and confusing, but when it's all tied up it makes a beautiful whole.
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