Saturday, 16 May 2009

Film Review: Los abrazos rotos (Broken Embraces)

Penélope Cruz in Pedro Almodóvar's Los abrazos rotos (Broken Embraces, 2009)

Pedro's done it again!

I must admit, despite being a HUGE fan of Almodóvar's films (I've seen all but four of them), I was slightly dreading going to see this, since it had an extremely hard act to follow. Volver, in my opinion, was the pinnacle of his career, encapsulating everything about Almodóvar: his insight on women and his extraordianily unique method of filmmaking. What with the performance of Queen Penélope (or is she a Saint, now? I can't tell) in the truly mundane Vicky Cristina Barcelona swelling her status - and her head - to Oscar-winning (but not deserving) superstar, I was worried this next venture would be nothing more than a vehicle for Pé, acting in her role as Pedro's latest muse (I've always preferred Carmen Maura). After the first ten minutes of the film, all my worries and fears melted away.

Put as simply as possible, the film's plot flits back and forth between the mid-1990s and the present day, charting the love triangle between Cruz's character, her empresario husband and her film director lover. As obssession, jealousy and betrayal complicate their lives, the three main characters continue to destroy themselves through misdirection, constant power struggles and dishonesty. The result is unsurprisingly tragic and fatal.

The fact that the story is narrated retrospectively and in a non-linear fashion facilitates the mystery of who is who, and who did what, in order to engange the viewer and force them to act as a detective. Meanwhile, the right amount of sympahy is felt for each of the characters, even José Luis Gómez's obssessive pig of a husbandincluding the supporting characters.

Keen-eyed viewers will also note the references to Almodóvar's earlier films - in particular Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (Women on the Verge of A Nervous Breakdown, 1989) - and the use of meta-fiction and intertextuality which seems to have been gaining greater influence in the director's work over the past few years. Using his recogniseable repertiore of actors from his earlier films in certain scenes - especially Chus Lampreave and Rossy de Palma - alongside actors playing actors who appear as characters in versions of Almodóvar's earlier work feels more inspired and self-deprecating, rather than self indulgent or nepotistic.

As far as the acting is concerned, Almodóvar effortlessly gets the best out of his actors, and special mention must be given to Lluís Homar and Blanca Portillo as the blind director "Harry Caine"/Mateo Blanco and his agent and friend Judith García, who work so well together on screen it is hard not to believe the two have worked together on and off screen for over twenty years. Lola Dueñas, Carmen Machi, Rossy de Palma and Chus Lampreave keep the viewing experience buoyant with each of their respective comic moments, and Rubén Ochandiano maintains his triple role as comic past and serious present alter-egos, as well as tasty eye candy, throughout the film.

As far as my personal taste in Almodóvar's films go, Los abrazos rotos is not as enjoyable as Volver, but then again it is a different beast altogether. I still left the cinema feeling I'd seen another exceptionally good film, and when it is eventually released in other countries, I would strongly recommend going to watch it.

Five Stars. And that's rare, for me.

No English subtitles, I'm afraid, but I'm sure you get the picture...

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