Director Pedro Almodovar’s film Broken Embraces is an interesting one. In it, many different genres, such as drama, romance, crime, film-noir, and thriller are explored. To be more confusing, the film plays out of chronological order, through a series of flashbacks and video clips.
Broken Embraces is a movie about movies. Mateo Blanco (Lluis Homar) is a screen writer who, after becoming blind, changes his name to Harry Caine. Harry’s agent Judit (Blanca Portillo) has an adult son (Tamar Novas) who Harry tells his life story to. There the flashbacks begin. Harry recounts the drama and deception that happened during the making of a film he wrote the screenplay to, called Girls and Suitcases. He becomes romantically involved with aspiring actress and Magdalena (Penelope Cruz) at the same time that Magdalena is involved with someone else. From here on the film becomes almost full blown melodrama, so I won’t get into plot spoiler territory. Needless to say, deceptive, happy, and tragic events all occur at a fast moving pace.
The best thing about this film is its acting. Penelope Cruz stands out among all others, but Homar, Portilla, and the rest of the supporting cast give fine performances. Because the film contains so much melodramatic and noir-ish dialogue, good acting is a must, and these actors definitely deliver.
Additionally, when the movie decides to focus on being about movie-making, we see a strong visual style. There is one scene where something happens while a character is holding a video camera. Almodovar cleverly cuts between regular point of view, and the point of view of the video camera. When characters sit down to edit Girls and Suitcases, focus will often switch from Broken Embraces‘ narrative, and show full scenes from Girls and Suitcases instead.
No film comes without its flaws, though, and Broken Embraces has more than its share of them. For a movie with so much talking, it does not contain much stand-out dialogue. A melodrama should have good dialogue, but the conversations in this one are nothing special, and often go on for too long. In fact, the movie itself is at least 20 minutes too long, and begins to feel drawn out and boring, just like some of its exchanges.
As a movie about movies, the film uses some very interesting visual flairs. However, it does not use them often enough. For a movie that should be really visual, it does not fully deliver. I would have liked if the film had used more camera techniques. Normally this is not a problem, but it seems as if Almodovar only uses them sporadically, to sort of be artsy. If a director wants a movie to be artsy and visually strong, he/she should make it more consistent, especially here where the story calls for it. Earlier, I mentioned a scene with cross cutting between points of views. That scene is brilliant, but I wish there would have been more of them. Visions should be carried out all the way, not feel slight.
In the end, Broken Embraces is a good film, that could have been great. It is definitely worth checking out, especially if you enjoy modern noir movies. Although I have not yet seen Almodovar’s other works, this one definitely makes me want to check them out.