Directed by: Pedro Almodovar
Written by: Pedro Almodovar
Starring: Penelope Cruz, Luis Homar
Run Time: 127 minutes
MPAA Rating: Rated R
In the hands of the right director, melancholy and melodrama can be a wonderful thing. Usually, the great Spanish director Pedro Almodovar mixes the two to wonderful effect, as proven with stellar examples such as Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Talk to Her and All About My Mother. But in the case of his latest film, Broken Embraces, the balance he usually manages to strike between just enough and too much gets lost, and the two extremes stridently clash.
Broken Embraces features Penelope Cruz as Lena, the actress muse of a blind screenwriter named Mateo, played by Luis Homar. At the movie’s onset we are introduced to Mateo, a handsome, middle-aged and successful screenwriter who, through a series of events, feels compelled to recount the story of how he met and lost his great love, Lena, as well as his sight. Lena is introduced at the start of the flashbacks as a struggling office worker-bee grappling with financial issues and her father’s failing health. Out of misplaced desperation, she ends up becoming the “kept woman” of a wealthy benefactor named Ernesto. Eventually bored with her new lifestyle, she attempts to fulfill her lifelong ambition of acting by auditioning and winning the lead role in a movie. Sparks ultimately fly between Lena and the film’s director, Mateo.
Through their story of forbidden love, heartache and mystery, Almodovar’s film unfolds, with humorous elements of a movie (Women on the Verge) within a movie. In some ways this seems like the perfect set-up for an Almodovar black comedy, but unfortunately, Broken Embraces quickly becomes unintentionally silly and tedious.
It is impossible for Almodovar to make a technically bad film. He’s too exceptional an artist, both visually and as a teller of stories. Whether it be comedy or drama, he likes to straddle the line between conventional drama and melodrama. He’s known for that, and usually masterfully and humorously balances the two. And yet, sometimes his stories veer off course. In Broken Embraces, there are too many ridiculous scenes, like when Ernesto discovers the affair and pushes Lena down a large staircase, and there are too few scenes of believable plot progression and necessary character development to counterbalance the silliness. The audience doesn’t feel compelled to engage in the story or connect with the characters.
Almodovar’s masterpiece, Talk to Her, was anchored by a tremendous script, and had just the right balance of pacing and character development. As a result, you were utterly absorbed in all the main characters as well as every musical note in the background. When Almodovar injected his brand of silliness and soap opera into that film, it was with a light touch that brought welcome relief. In Broken Embraces, what is unfortunately embraced is too much of a soap opera sensibility instead of genuine drama.