' Cinema Romantico: Broken Embraces

Friday, January 08, 2010

Broken Embraces

The films of Pedro Almodovar, of which I admit to not having seen enough of, are just unlike much of anything you will find these days at the cineplex. There is so much, visually and narratively, on the surface and so you focus great amounts of energy on all of it while several layers unwind beneath. He often receives comparisons to Hitchcock and this is both accurate and unfair. Hitchcock often seemed solely concerned with tricking the audience (not that this was a bad thing). Almodovar does not. For instance, his latest, "Broken Embraces", contains a massive Reveal at the end that really isn't much of a Reveal at all. You actually expect it. (At least, I did. And I'm terrible and usually uninterested at guessing ahead in movies.) When it's Revealed one character chuckles and just kinda shrugs. Oh. How 'bout that? Too much else to appreciate to waste all your energy on trying to figure things out, you know?

And while we're tossing around other moviemaking names how about this one? Quentin Tarantino. Almodovar and Q.T. seem to both possess a deep love with the movies. Not just for the dozens of inside, sly references, many of which I am sure I did not get since, as stated, I am far from up to date on his ouvre, but from the way an absurd, coincidental storyline can be shaped into something convincing with the right flourishes, a beautiful woman can almost always vex a filmmaker, and the long-standing fact that no one but a movie's director should finish the god damn thing. At one point our main character, Harry Cain (or is that really his name?), and the young son of his assistant are riffing on the outlines of a potential vampire movie. This is essentially my friends Daryl, Rory and Brad come to life. Seriously. It is. I was laughing so hard. "Broken Embraces" was made for movie lovers.

See, Harry Cain (Lluis Homar) used to be a filmmaker named Mateo Blanco. He was hard at work on a film starring a voluptuous woman named Lena (Penelope Cruz), a secretary-turned-"female companion" of Ernesto Martel (Jose Luis Gomez), an exceedingly rich man who, through her prompting, finances the movie so she can have the starring role. Of course, in no time Mateo and Lena make like Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini and find themselves engaged in the most passionate of affairs, much to the chagrin of Martel, who hires his creepy-to-the-max son (Ruben Ochandiano) to follow them everywhere and videotape them, perhaps for more purposes than one would intially presume.

But that's all in the past. In the present, Mateo - wait, now he's Harry, and, oh yeah, he's blind - is contacted by a creepy-to-the-max guy calling himself "Ray X" who wants to enlist Harry's help in creating a film. Harry's longtime assitant Judit (a feisty Blanco Portilla) encourages him to take on the project but Harry is reluctant. Why? Is it because all this is intertwined with what happened so many years ago?

Those are the fundamentals of the story but to say Pedro Almodovar tells fundamental stories is like saying James Cameron makes small movies. There is so much more to "Broken Embraces".

As the film unfolded before me in the theater I did not feel as if I was unconditionally absorbed in the proceedings. I don't necessarily want to use the word shallow but I kept thinking, "This isn't hitting me on a gut level." Which, of course, would make me the blowhard in the movie line behind Woody Allen pontificating about Fellini. ("I'd like to hit this guy on a gut level.") The further away I get from it, though, the more I think about it. The same thing happened to me with "Volver". Is this what Almodovar movies do? Why do they do it?

In one sense, movies are a business monstrosity. You spend however many years with God knows how many people and agents and industry insiders hang around the set trying to gauge Oscar chances and you've got your craft services and your temp taking Starbucks orders while wishing he'd just stayed in college and then, of course, there are the slick execs back at the ranch who are trying to mount the ad campaign and ascertain its potential popularity overseas all while wondering if someone should be brought in for re-writes ("We don't have a gun until the third act - can we have one show up in the first twenty minutes?"). "Broken Embraces" acknowledges the sordid side of the biz, for sure, and it's got plenty of darkness and deviousness but the end of "Broken Embraces" seems to suggest that in the, well, end, the film itself rises above all. Is that romantic, fairy-tale, hocus pocus? Probably. Which is fine by me.

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