Friday, March 19, 2010

Quick Look: Broken Embraces (2009)

I adore the films of Pedro Almodóvar. Aside from making a handful of justifiable masterpieces and earning his spot as one of the major figures in world cinema, he’s a master of melodrama, able to whip up a frothy delight and make it sizzle with deep emotion and vibrant color. Why, then, was I so quickly bored by Broken Embraces? It has an intriguing plot about a blind screenwriter whose past secrets start bubbling up inconveniently into his present. We get all kinds of flashbacks and films-within-films and surveillance and deceit and sex and romance and unknown parentage and a car crash and an impeccably shot tumble down a flight of stairs. It’s filled with incredible colors and patterns; in one scene I found myself staring at a set of curtains, the hue and floral prints so intense and striking that it was boggling my mind. It has incredible performances from Lluís Homar (as the aforementioned blind screenwriter) and Penélope Cruz, the lovers, or would-be lovers, at the center of some of the potentially torrid mystery. I also enjoyed the presence of Tamar Novas and Blanca Portillo, as a son and his mother who help the blind man continue his work. There are a few great scenes and a handful of good ones, but the film quickly grew stale for me. For all its outward pleasures, the narrative felt slack, the story was just not as engaging as I expect from Almodóvar. As it moves back into its lengthy flashbacks and endless exposition, I found I didn’t particularly care how the story would unravel or how the mysteries would be solved. It’s a shiny bauble, but a hollow one. It looks great, but I was disappointed I could not engage more with the story. It simply doesn’t sizzle like it should.

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