Broken Embracesby Kavish Chetty / 03.06.2010
If the poster for Broken Embraces doesn’t get your tongue salivating, then I’m afraid you’re quite tasteless. Prince of Persia is playing upstairs, by the way. Go on; go buy your popcorn and your little Slush Puppy and your box of Wine Gums, go go! I’ve seen the blank infinity behind your stare. Step into your theatre, and let Hollywood have its way with you. You know you want it.
Pedro Almodovar is getting older and grayer, but his films are still as unmistakably gay as they ever were. Why is it that gay men have such an enviable eye for gorgeousness (they’d probably call it “fabulous!”, as does the hyperactive hairdresser in this film, but I’d rather have be choked than use that word)? When Almodovar shows us an aerial shot of (volcanic island) Lanzarote, a thin strip of tarmac slashes its way through a black landscape of ash, apocalyptic and pockmarked with craters – you’d be dead inside not to gasp at its beauty. Beauty is everywhere in this film, like all Almodovar’s others. It’s in the bookshelf in Diego’s house, squares of different sizes, stacked up with books, plump or slim, bright or pastel; it’s in Almodovar’s garish colour palette, the clash of vermillions and bright blues against understated Spanish backdrops. Most of all, it’s in Penelope Cruz’s face: at times whorish and used, at others model-perfect and womanly.
Broken Embraces shows off the full ancestry of Almodovar’s seventeen-film wide canon in two hours. It has the slapstick comedy, the melodrama and the intriguing female leads. The story is set in both the 1990s and late 2000s. It’s a noirish plot, complete with overblown soundtrack, although it’s unmuted – colourful, brash, as gutsily garish as anything you’d from him. Matteo Blanco is an acclaimed scriptwriter who becomes involved in a love triangle with a struggling secretary and her powerful and rich lover-employer. He works under the pseudonym “Harry Caine” (although, in his particular accent, it inevitably comes out “hurricane”; isn’t he just so very clever?), but somehow he has become blinded. Now, this enigmatic scriptwriter is being visited by faces from the past. His producer is withholding secrets about his accident. The soundtrack announces with strong, vibrant strings that there is suspense all around. It isn’t quite so apparent by the on-screen action, sadly, but there is tension and high drama enough.
So, the plot has it all, even if it is over-reaching. A tale of revenge that takes the form of a director’s worst nightmare. Sex scenes which probably aren’t as much arousing as they are creepy, like the ghostly outline of pretty faces, gasping with orgasm and trapped under white sheets. The music is great, and not just Alberto Iglesias’s orchestral score for the film. Uffie’s Robot Oeuf makes an appearance in a club scene, effortlessly cool and percussive. Cat Power’s Werewolf also shows up, as do some Spanish tracks, a little topheavy on melodrama, but effective nevertheless. Most of all, Almodovar’s signature mix of comedy and drama will get you. It’s all traced out with such a careful choreography of colours: see Penelope Cruz (or ‘Pe’ as the Spanish press have taken to calling her) in a platinum-blonde wig, turning to face the camera with a faked Bambi-surprise smile on her face. See the stalking Ernesto Junior in his goofy-geekish bangs and glasses. See the Hitchcock shot of a black spiral staircase which our protagonist goes running down. Or Penelope (again), in a blood red outfit, tumbling down stairs, graceless and yet still perfect.
If you liked Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988) or even Bad Education (2004), this is cinema for you. Almodovar doesn’t invent or re-invent film here; he creates the aging artists’ tribute to his expansive former works. Sometimes he misses the mark, sometimes he hits it dead-centre, but he’s always unambiguously true to his roots.