January 25, 2010

MOVIES: Broken Embraces (Pedro Almodovar, 2009)

Harry Caine (Lluis Homar) is a blind screenwriter who's offered a writing job by a man calling himself "Ray X" (Ruben Ochandiano). Caine throws him out, wanting nothing to do with him. Does his bad mood have anything to do with that day's news that financier Ernesto Martel (Jose Luis Gomez) has died?

That's just one of the mysteries that Almodovar sets up in Broken Embraces. There are even more mysteries waiting for us when we flash back 14 years to find that Harry used to be Mateo Blanco, a successful director, and Martel was funding one of his films. Why did Mateo become Harry? How did he lose his sight? What's the connection between Mateo's inexperienced leading lady Lena (Penelope Cruz) and Martel? And who is Ray X?

This isn't Almodovar's very best work, but it's still a marvelously entertaining bit of melodrama about how the things we see (or think we see) can mislead us and make us do foolish things. Cruz gives a fine performance; she's particularly good in the movie-making scenes, where we get to see her doing two versions of the same movie moment, one a disastrously bad performance, and one a crackling comic gem. Homar is also terrific, playing everything from a man caught up in the giddiness of new love to a heartbroken, bitter cynic.

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