Penélope on Pedro's Canvas
I must be completely dazzled by Pedro Almodóvar's current skills as a filmmaker because I really enjoyed Broken Embraces even though I had several reasons not to. In style and flavor of story, it may too closely resemble Bad Education, with its mysterious plot of mysterious pasts surrounding a film director protagonist, so one wonders if Almodóvar is running out of ideas; but the biggest potential strike against it for me was that it's a vehicle for Penélope Cruz, an actress I do not particularly favor. And yet, as I've said before, Almodóvar is the only one who can make Cruz watchable for me, and it's a good thing too, since Broken Embraces is very clearly a valentine to the actress.
Actually, it may be the second such -- this movie complements their previous collaboration, Volver, which was also a showcase for Cruz, and the distinction between these two movies comes from the appreciating gaze. Volver was a woman's movie, warm, earthy, and spiritual, where Cruz's character could be admired as a mother, a daughter, a sister, and a friend; while in Broken Embraces, she is treated as a man's prize, the object of affection for two male characters competing for her company, and, as such, is dressed-up and caressed by Almodóvar's camera.
Now, were it up to me, I may not have chosen Cruz to dedicate such a project to, but I think if any actress were so lucky to be given this attention, she should be treated with as much reverence as Cruz is given here. Her character isn't as fleshed out as the memory of her character is as the protagonist, filmmaker Mateo Blanco (Lluís Homar), now blind, recalls their story together, when he made her the star of his last picture. The movie makes the case that while past loves live legendarily within our memories, having them captured on film can make them even more strongly, solidly so.
The rest of the movie is filled with Almodóvar's usual melodramatics, with so many wounded characters running around and interacting with each other, but he paints the whole thing so smoothly, confidently, and colorfully that I was actually swept up in this mystery love triangle movie that dared to idolize Penélope Cruz.
(Released by Sony Pictures Classics and rated "R" for sexual content, language and some drug material.)
Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com.