Right off the top, there are three good reasons to catch Broken Embraces on the “run, don’t walk” plan: Almodóvar, Cruz, and the magical chemistry arising from their best work together yet. With his latest film, a captivating cinematic seduction with romantic intrigues and thriller elements, Spain’s greatest living director, Pedro Almodóvar, adds another high point to his long and strong filmography. Few directors have so deftly bridged the worlds of art house cinema and pure movie pleasure, and ditto Penélope Cruz, who demonstrates her virtually unmatched blend of staggering beauty, natural sexuality, feminine mystique, and acting bravura.
Add those two riches together and watch the sparks fly and the subliminal energies bubble here. Like the late, great Fassbinder, Almodóvar has always found ingenious ways to plumb both melodrama—sometimes half-ironically—and narrative and filmic schemes leaning into the winds of high cinematic art. This time around, his storytelling gymnastics are right on the mark, stirring both semi-soap-opera style plot twists with post-film noir and Hitchcockian elements and a cocktail of symbiotic sight, sound, and story that is pure, well, Almodóvarian.
Almodóvar’s chronology-twister plot involving a blind director-turned-screenwriter (Lluís Homar) and yarn-spinner and his turbulently triangular love interest (Cruz) moves skillfully back and forth in time and perspective. Structurally, it is a film within a film and a story within a story; a functional reflection on film’s potential to fluidly defy gravity and linear reality.
Winking film references slither throughout, both with nods to cinematic history and a subplot filled with Peeping Tom-ish footage, shot by a jealous, sinister producer.
As usual with Almodóvar, Broken Embraces is unusually rich with sensations. Bracing visual style comes with the help of cinematographer Rodrigo (Brokeback Mountain) Prieto’s vivid and color-loving camera scheming, and a musical score of uncommon, cliché-free grace is supplied by the director’s right-hand composer, Alberto Iglesias.
Yet again, Almodóvar delivers the goods in high, arty yet accessible style, pulling us into the sordid and sensual tale while allowing us to hover above it, a mean balancing act few directors can accomplish.