Almodóvar and Cruz Come Together for “Broken Embraces”
By Yvette Cervera '11, Staff Writer
Fresh from her Oscar-nominated turn as Guido Contini’s mistress in the star-studded musical “Nine,” Penélope Cruz is a force to be reckoned with. Her unforgettable and fiery role in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” as the sultry vixen, Carla, garnered her her first Oscar statuette last year for Best Supporting Actress — a category she dominated.

Her latest project reunites Cruz with Spanish director Pedro Almodόvar for the fourth time in the wonderfully melodramatic “Broken Embraces” (“Los Abrazos Rotos”). Fueling the drama is the twisted love triangle between a powerful businessman, a talented film director and the beautiful woman at the center of the conflict, Lena (Cruz).

Almodόvar seems to have been inspired by film noir in regards to the script he penned, drawing on the genre’s preference for convoluted story lines interspersed with flashbacks that serve to disrupt the flow of the narrative. The deceitful Lena is cast as the femme fatale while her jealous millionaire lover easily assumes the role of the villain after she falls for another man.

The story unfolds when we are first introduced to a blind screenwriter, whose pseudonym, Harry Caine (played by Lluís Homar), prevents him from being recognized as former film director Mateo Blanco. Wasting no time in establishing the film’s sensuous tone, Caine uses his disability to “enjoy life,” as he puts it, with a beautiful woman who obligingly offers to read to him from the newspaper.

Bringing Caine (and viewers) back to reality is the entry of his manager, Judit (Blanca Portillo). Her no-nonsense attitude in dealing with her client’s indiscretions demonstrates their close relationship in regards to both business and personal matters.The two have a long history together, which shows in Judit’s underwhelmed expression as she watches Caine’s latest conquest embark on the walk of shame.

Along with her son, Diego (Tamar Novas), who helps Caine transfer his screenplays to paper and brainstorm ideas for new material, Judit watches out for her client and old friend, ensuring that he stays out of trouble as much as possible. But what would an Almodόvar film be without some element of trouble?

Such trouble inevitably strikes in the form of aspiring filmmaker, Ray X (the Spanish equivalent of McG, perhaps?), who approaches Caine with the desire to write a screenplay centered around a gay man seeking revenge on his tyrant of a father. Recognizing the young man’s story, Caine suspects him of being the son of recently deceased business mogul, Ernesto Martel (José Luis Gόmez).

The confirmation of this suspicion opens up a can of worms, inexplicably frightening Judit to such an extent that her son is determined to discover the source of her fear. While his mother is off on a business trip, Diego learns the tragic story of how Mateo Blanco “died” and became Harry Caine.

Flashing back to the early 1990s, Caine (then Blanco) recalls casting the female lead for his film “Girls and Suitcases.” This is the first time he meets his eventual muse, Lena; former secretary by day and call girl by night, she is currently mistress to Martel, although she’s always dreamt of becoming an actress. Hence, she shows up to audition for Blanco, who is awestruck by her considerable beauty.

To keep a close tab on his paramour, who has no trouble snagging her desired role, Martel provides financial backing for the film. Martel’s ruthless need for control makes it easy to understand why Ernesto Jr. (played by Rubén Ochandiano) grows to despise his father.

Despite everyone’s apparent disdain for Ernesto Jr., I couldn’t help sympathizing with the youth whose bowl-cut hairstyle, acne-stricken face and coke bottle glasses make it difficult to do anything other than laugh when he enters the shot. While he may look ridiculous, the young man poses a threat: his father sends him to spy on Lena in the guise of making a behind-the-scenes documentary of the film, taking voyeurism to a new, creepier level. Through the footage shot by his son, Ernesto watches as his lover falls for her nurturing director.

Caine’s own version of the past plays out in dramatic fashion, rife with elements of comedy and suspense for both the film and the film within the film. Through it all, Almodόvar provides the audience with a breathtaking view, using eye-catching colors to create visually appealing shots that compete with the equally engaging plot for the viewer’s attention.

In the midst of Almodόvar’s twists and turns, it is Penélope Cruz who steals the show. She breathes life into the film, lighting up the screen with her undeniable beauty and raw talent — a combination that makes her universally appealing. With “Broken Embraces,” Almodόvar and Cruz have created movie magic.

Issue 14, Submitted 2010-02-15 18:43:34