Almodovar "Embraces" '50s melodrama in new film

Tue May 19, 2009 11:04pm EDT
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By Kirk Honeycutt

CANNES, France (Hollywood Reporter) - While making a light comedy, a director and his female star engage in a passionate love affair that prompts emotional fireworks, jealousy and betrayal, not only for them but for those close to the pair, in "Broken Embraces." These dual movies -- the on-set comedy and the off-set melodrama -- allow the prolific and always engaging writer-director Pedro Almodovar to speculate on cinema itself, on its imagery, iconic touchstones and capacity for clandestine observation.

While the movie as a whole is thoroughly engrossing and all the movie references and subplots involving the cinema world undoubtedly enrich his story, this is a pretty minor film from the filmmaker. It feels like more of an exercise in plotting and movie nostalgia than a story about real people.

By now, though, Almodovar is a brand name, and his muse, Penelope Cruz, certainly adds potent star power, so the film, a competition entry at the Cannes festival, should perform well in specialty venues when Sony Picture Classics releases it stateside on November 20.

The opening credits are superimposed on a video image taken surreptitiously on the set, first of the stand-ins and then of Cruz and co-star Lluis Homar. This nicely sets up the notion of the camera as the world's greatest spy. In movies, the audience is always, in a sense, watching people's most intimate situations and seeing things the characters would not have us see.

The story concerns a man with two names who answers only to one. A car accident 14 years earlier robbed film director Mateo Blanco (Homar) of his eyesight and his great love, Lena (Cruz). Once he recovered, he declared Blanco dead and adapted the pseudonym Harry Caine, which he puts on all the scripts he now writes with the aid of Diego (Blanca Portillo), the son of his former production manager, Judit (Tamar Novas).

One night, while recovering from an accidental drug overdose, Diego asks Harry to tell the story of what happened 14 years ago. Surprisingly, Harry does.

The minute Harry -- Mateo at the time -- and Lena see each other, they fall in love. But she is the kept woman of Ernesto Martel (Jose Luis Gomez), a wealthy broker. Nonetheless, Mateo casts her in his comedy. Lena has always wanted to be an actress and, as a former escort and now a mistress, acting does come naturally to her.

Martel signs on as the film's producer in a vain attempt to maintain control over his lover. He even plants his son, Martel Jr. (Ruben Ochandiano), on the set, ostensibly to shoot a "making of" video, as a means to keep an eye on Lena.   Continued...

<p>Director Pedro Almodovar and cast member Penelope Cruz arrive on the red carpet for the screening of the film "Los Abrazos Rotos" at the 62nd Cannes Film Festival May 19, 2009. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau</p>