This film is cheesy, convoluted, clichéd and emotionally exploitative, yet still totally enjoyable. Broken Embraces is the latest offering from Spanish writer and director Pedro Almodovar who also brought us Volver, High Heels and so many others. The movie centers on blind screenwriter Harry Caine (Lluis Homar). He tells us right off the bat that he is the alter-ego of director Mateo Blanco but that Mateo no longer exists. Then the Hitchcock-esque music begins to play. We aren’t the only ones asking, “Well, what happened?” Diego (Tamar Novas), the son of Harry’s manager has also been dying to know. So when his mom is out of town and he ends up confined to bed, he asks Harry to tell him the story.
From here, the movie flashes back to 1994. We meet Lena (Penelope Cruz), the hooker with a heart of gold turned secretary. She is the mistress of wealthy businessman Ernesto Martel (Jose Luis Gomez) and he’ll buy her anything she desires – but of course, all she really wants is to act. Lena auditions for the lead in Mateo’s latest movie, Girls and Suitcases. She wins the role and steals Mateo’s heart. (He still has his sight at this point). That really upsets Martel and over the top drama ensues. By the time Girls and Suitcases is released to the public, tragedy has struck all of our main characters and Mateo has become Harry.
This film is full of great performances. Penelope Cruz is absolutely mesmerizing as Lena. She looks like she could be the daughter of Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe. It’s impossible to take your eyes off of her which I’m sure explains why both Blanco and Martel are completely obsessed. Lluis Homar plays both Mateo Blanco and Harry Reid with nuance. Depending on the character, you can sense either his passion or his disappointment. Other strong performances are turned in by Rubén Ochandiano as the uber-geeky teenage son of Martel and by Blanca Portillo who plays Harry’s manager Judit. They both appear to be minor characters at the start of the film but by the end, they have become absolutely essential to the story.
Broken Embraces makes fun of soap operas without ever losing sight of the fact that it is itself a soap opera. The storyline is over the top and absurd but Almodovar makes sure that we still care about the characters. Just when it gets too silly, the plot makes a turn towards serious drama. Similarly, whenever things get too heavy there is some comedy thrown in. The source of a lot of the humor is Mateo’s film-within-a-film, Girls and Suitcases. It’s an over the top comedy film which interestingly enough, has the same plot as Almodovar’s 1989 film, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. It’s little in-jokes and cliches like this that push Broken Embraces to the very limit of credibility. With that said, it still exhibits enough heart to stand on its own and I thoroughly enjoyed the film from beginning to end. Even in its worst moments, I still wanted to keep watching. This is not Almodovar’s best work, but I still found it considerably more pleasing than most of the films currently coming out of Hollywood.
Broken Embraces Arrives on Blu-ray with a 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encode framed at 2.35:1. This film offers some truly amazing eye popping colors. Various scenes throughout the film display an array of bright yellows, orange, reds, etc. and they look right down beautiful. The black colors are nice and deep. The detail in the picture is very good and nicely reproduced throughout the film. While the film has its positives there are also a few negatives. The image often appears flat lacking that certain knockout punch. The edges appear fuzzy or blurred, but this could possibly be intended. Overall is an decent transfer that could have been better.
Broken Embraces arrives on Blu-ray with a Spanish 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio lossless track. The film is dialogue heavy, it will not push your systems to the limit nor should you expect much in the effects department. The dialogue is produced exceedingly well with clear and crisp sounds. The score is also introduced through the fronts as well as from time to time through the rear speakers with very nice clarity. The rears are used for subtle ambience effects. Overall this is a very good audio mix.
Broken Embraces doesn’t have tons of special features like a lot of recent Blu-rays. But it does have some interesting material included, most notably some lengthy deleted scenes and a new short film by Pedro Almodovar.
Deleted Scenes – This section includes one scene where Harry digs up an old editing notebook given to him by the editor of Girls and Suitcases. He takes the notebook to Diego and asks him to look through it for “clues”. The scene is quite long and I’m not sure why it was deleted. It doesn’t add anything additional to the plot, but it does add more meat to the ending of the film which I felt was a bit rushed. Leaving this scene in the film would have helped the storytelling and I’m glad to at least see it included here in the Supplements.
Pedro Directs Penelope – This shows the filming of a scene from Girls and Suitcases. Almodovar yells out prompts and directions to Cruz as she acts out the scene. This could be interesting but I found it hard to follow both Pedro and Penelope while reading the subtitles. It might be better in the original Spanish but something has definitely been “lost in translation”.
Variety Q&A with Penelope Cruz – A reporter from Variety asks Cruz about her experiences making the film and her relationship with Almodovar.
“The Cannibalistic Councillor” a short film by Pedro Almodovar
This short film could actually be a deleted scene from Girls and Suitcases. When Pina (Cruz) leaves her apartment to track down Ivan, she leaves her friend Chon (Carmen Machi) to babysit Ivan’s unconscious daughter-in-law. Chon launches into an outrageous monologue full of flan and cocaine. This was by far my favorite of the Special Features!
On the Red Carpet: The New York Film Festival Closing Night – The director and stars walk the red carpet at the New York Film Festival.
With Broken Embraces, you find a movie that’s light and schmaltzy on the surface but that will also give you a lot to think about once you scratch that surface. Penelope Cruz alone makes the film worth watching. The Blu-ray offers a decent audio and video transfer, not what I expected, but it does the job fitting perfectly to the vision of Almodovar. I highly recommend at least a rental.