Thursday, 3 September 2009

REVIEW: Broken Embraces

Truth be told Pedro Almodovar goes over my head. The beloved director of every guardian film critic, every subscriber of Sight and Sound and I should imagine a fair percentage of whoever is left in the cinematic community. But something has never quite clicked for me. I appreciate the dude is a talented visual film-maker , and he's a great director of actors given that most of his films contain at least one spellbinding performance. But I submit that he is infinitely better director then he is a writer, because for me close to all of his films feature on over-reliance on melodrama and soap-like story lines. Characters are often thinly drawn, to me at least, and are saved by his strength at drawing out good performances. As a consequence of this most of his body of work ends up as a sumptuously filmed and impeccably acted episode of Dynasty or Melrose Place with a bit of sexual deviousness and self-referential homage to cinema thrown in.

His film previous to this, Volver, was a bit different and seemed to break that pattern a little, being a genuinely heart-felt movie with characters to care for and more importantly very little of the soap like family hysterics that run throughout most of his work, and are present here. What made that film stronger was the fact that the characters felt a little more human and a little less cypher-like; a little less like Chess pieces reciting false emotion. I should be clear before I go any further that this is not a bad movie per say, its just a bit run of the mill for this guy. All the familiar touches are here. The colorful look of both the sets and the cinematography, several lust-stricken characters driven to darkness by obsessive sexuality; Penelope Cruz, forever entwined to the director who made her credible. The noir leanings and several family moments of catharsis - to use the words of the subtitled translation - Almodovar has been here and done that, and we've seen it already. He's become almost like the melodramatic Hitchcock, making the same film again and again with a few minor tweaks. What's kept him so adored is that he is one of the most stylish yet subtle visual directors around. He's developed a style that is uniquely his, and his films all bear a strong signature.

Acting wise, the film probably belongs to Lluis Homar playing a blind screenwriter, with plenty of vibrancy and credibility. He gave a similarly effective performance in Almodovar's Bad Education, and his humanity is what perhaps prevents the film from drowning in its own falsehood. As for Cruz, she's OK. Good even, but she's been better and truth be told the role is a bit of a weak one. She certainly looks the part though, looking every inch the fifties matinee idol that Almodovar aspires to, as seen by the pictures of starlets that litter the walls of Homar's office and apartment. But no performance here really blasts of the screen the way Cruz did in Volver, or Gael Garcia Bernal did in Bad Education, and that almost certainly means its amongst his second tier.

But there's really little new for me to say, and he'll get a widespread critical respect few others will ever achieve, hell maybe something is beyond my comprehension but you take away the name and the pedigree of this film, does it still get the same kind of respect. I couldn't think why.

Rating: 6/10 (The harshest 6/10 review ever, but its not like anyone else is criticizing the guy around here.)

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