First Night: Broken Embraces, Cannes Film Festival

Pedro the perfectionist has lost the passion – and the plot too

Kaleen Aftab
Wednesday 20 May 2009 00:00

Broken Embraces is Pedro Almodovar's film about filmmaking. He built his brilliant reputation on making empathetic movies which tug at the heartstrings and deploy melodrama to toy with his characters' – and audience's – emotions. In contrast, the overriding sentiment here is one of regret.

The ideas about the editing process investigated in Broken Embraces are at times so inaccessible as to render the film sterile. Its story is told cerebrally, clinically – not words usually associated with the Spaniard's work.

One is left a little bewildered, unable to empathise with any of the characters. As the plot unfolded I found myself wanting the other Almodovar back.

The action jumps from past to present and the film-within-a-film.

A blind scriptwriter using the pseudonym Harry Caine (Lluís Homar) manages to work with the help of his former production manager Judit (Blanca Portillo). She used to work for Caine before he lost his sight in a brutal car crash. After the crash he abandoned his real name Mateo Blanco and stopped directing films. Judit's son Diego (Tamar Novas) dreams of writing a script with Caine, and when they start working on a vampire comedy the men bond.

One night Diego has an accident and Harry has to take care of him.

Convalescing Diego asks Caine to tell him about his life when he worked as director. The story of "amour fou" includes Judit, her husband Ernesto (Jose Luis Gomez), Mateo himself and his wife Lena (Penelope Cruz), who at the time were shooting a comedy, Girls and Suitcases. Penelope Cruz also plays two characters in Girls and Suitcases, Magdalena and her counterpoint Pina. Confused?

You will be.

Almodovar is attempting to explore montage and how it links moments. But his principal protagonist is not likeable enough, the tale is unengaging and the entertainment level low. It feels like a movie that only ever made complete sense in Almodovar's head.

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