Pedro Almodovar's fourth film with Oscar-winner Penelope Cruz is an elegant noir-ish melodrama, as the visuals and casting dazzle more than a fragmented, if intriguing storyline.
Broken Embraces (in Spanish with English subtitles) stars Lluis Homar, Tomar Novas, Blanca Portillo, and Cruz.
The circuitous, somewhat satirical tale surrounds a grieving, blind recluse of a director Mateo (Homar). In a Madrid apartment he collaborates with a screenwriter Diego (Novas), son of a faithful agent (Portillo).
Almodovar's surreptitious stylishness swirling around revenge and ambition comes from Mateo learning about an opulent, wanton Ernesto (Jose Luis Gomez) who nearly a decade and a half earlier financed a project featuring his trophy mistress Lena, a riveting Cruz, who wanted out of the relationship. The businessman put his teenage son (Ruben Ochandiano) on the task to "watch over" the filmmaker and his lead actress who started developing a bond that extended beyond the screen.
Fans of the stalwart Spanish auteur may feel some more dramatic underpinnings here like his recent Volver rather than earlier ebullient terrific forays like Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown with reminiscience of the film-within-a-film scenario.
The tangled arcane stuff has a fascination to it as it acknowledges notions of family, death, and romance, with commited performers vividly conveying enough to make the emotions resonate.
Homar is the film's centerpiece, nicely underplaying his role which works well opposite his co-stars, especially Cruz, who appeals on many levels, especially where feelings of ambition, betrayal and jealousy are concerned. A blitheness to the storytelling, as well as the art of cinemas is also punctuated with the predominate red hue, as Almodovar works effectively with lenser Rodrigo Prieto to frame and reflect the sights from a motion-picture insider perspective.
Broken Embraces may not quite have the desired emotional payoff with a subtle, sardonic irony from the twists leading up to its conclusion, yet the constant shifting and positioning of interactions and primary hued scenes leave one with plenty of telling, insightful recollection long afterwards.