December 24, 2009

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Broken Embraces (R)
Spanish writer/director Pedro Almodóvar gives us a noir-ish movie about a man, his lover and his movie in Broken Embraces, a strange but fascinating addition to Almodóvar’s Penelope Cruz series.

Harry Caine (Lluis Homar) is a blind screenwriter who is the kind of suave that allows him to get a girl who was merely helping him cross the street into bed and out the door without ever really learning her name and still leaving her dazzled. His assistant Judit (Blanca Portillo) seems to take a dim view of these meetings but she is nonetheless happy to be around Harry and help him continue his success. Her son Diego (Tamar Novas) works for Harry as well and is curious about the time when, before Harry was called Harry, he was a sighted director named Mateo Blanco. Back then, some 10 or so years earlier, he was in love with Lena (Penelope Cruz), who was the mistress of the wealthy Ernesto Martel (José Luis Gomez), the Mateo’s film’s financial backer. The jealous Ernesto gets his son to follow and film the couple and spends his days watching the film of their secret meetings.

Pedro Almodóvar films, for me, either work or don’t and this one does even if it is at times a bit confusing. Part of what I really enjoy about Almodóvar films are the female characters. Even when they play rather predictable roles (the pretty girl forced to be a mistress, the woman holding a torch), his women have layers and emotional arcs, particularly when Cruz is in the mix. Not only does she instantly give me a new goal for all of my makeover fantasies; she uses the attention the movie gives her because of her beauty to deliver truly melodramatic performances in the best sense of the word.

Broken Embraces is the quiet, strange movie you’ve been looking for to cleanse the palate between blockbuster confections. B+

Rated R for sexual content and some drug material. Written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar, Broken Embraces (called Los abrazos rotos in Spanish) is two hours and eight minutes long, is in Spanish with English subtitles and is distributed by Sony Pictures. It will open in Boston on Friday, Dec. 25