Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 5
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

‘Broken Embraces’ not to be missed

Few films possess the kinetic energy sufficient to propel their characters through the plot: Many have flat, undeveloped deadweights whose stagnancy creates too much friction for any sort of plot development. Even fewer films allow that energy to translate into unconventional explorations of ambitious, recondite themes.

Pedro Almodóvar’s latest film, “Broken Embraces,” somehow manages to surpass its unrealistic plot: which, if you’ve seen his other films, is probably the least of his worries: and aim its peeping Tom lens at the shoddy divisions that tend to compartmentalize our understanding of art itself.

What separates memory from reality, pain from pleasure, subject from author? These seemingly disparate binaries are strung together by a profound desire to correct the incorrigible: A critique of the unadulterated author figure we’re all guilty of citing in our Core (pardon, ‘Encounters’) classes.

Almodóvar has called “Broken Embraces” his “most personal film” and its resonances with Federico Fellini’s “8 ½” could not be more palpable. But, Almodóvar’s self-reflexive auteurist inquiry doesn’t care as much about the generation of genius ideas, per se, as it does about how these ideas are recuperated after a decades of emotional tumult. For this director, love and despair are on par with vision and creativity in the cinematic equation.

The film, unlike the plot, centers on the enigmatic figure of Lena Rivas (the always gorgeous Penélope Cruz). She is the axel of Harry Cain’s (Lluís Homar) memory. Cain, whose name turns out to be a pseudonym, was once a director, but now, because of blindness, he must settle for screenwriting. Instances that occur in the present: a young filmmaker named Ray-X, for example, reminds him of someone he once knew: offer Cain a chance to reconstruct his past and unveil his long list of secrets to Diego (Tamar Novas), the adult son of his personal assistant Judit (Blanca Portillo).

“Broken Embraces,” as you may have noticed, seems to be a departure even from Almodóvar’s previous quotidian drama, “Volver,” let alone his high-flying, paradigm-deconstructing films of the 90s (see “All About My Mother” or “The Flower of My Secret,” for example). Even as the film pays homage to Almodóvar’s own beautiful chaos: the film Cain directed when he still had sight, “Chicas y maletas” (trans. “Girls and suitcases”), strongly parallels Almodóvar’s own “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”: “Broken Embraces” doesn’t explore the intricacies of its female characters. Lena remains a piece of eye candy to be admired by her suitors and the audience. I won’t go so far as to call it objectification; Almodóvar surely had his reasons, but the portrayal of Lena’s character is as bitter as the film itself is intelligent.

Regardless of this potential mishap (I’m sure Almodóvar will explain his reasons soon), “Broken Embraces” embodies all the feelings within the auteur himself and should not be missed by anyone who claims to love cinema.

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