Broken Embraces

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Directed by Pedro Almodóvar. Starring Penélope Cruz and Lluí­s Homar. In Spanish with English subtitles. Rated 14A. Opens Friday, December 18, at the Fifth Avenue Cinemas

As the private secretary of an extremely powerful businessman (José Luis Gómez), Penélope Cruz’s gorgeous, moderately talented Lena wants to be an actor. So she auditions for an Audrey Hepburn–type role in a gaudy comedy from popular director Mateo Blanco (Lluí­s Homar). When she falls for Mateo, it’s hard to tell if she’s found her right place or is simply moving on to the next alpha male.


Watch the trailer for Broken Embraces.

Of course, you won’t know any of this going into Broken Embraces, the latest from Pedro Almodóvar and one of his best. The movie begins in the present with a grey-haired Mateo, now blind and calling himself Harry Caine, recalling convoluted events from almost 15 years earlier. As with all of Almodóvar’s films, the telling is far more important than the tale, and it’s the exquisite layering of detail, with different facets standing out each time, that provides much of the delight. The rest comes from Cruz.

Because it centres on a blind filmmaker, the cinematic references are more direct, and verbal, than usual. Along the way, there are explicit and implied nods to films by Alfred Hitchcock, Roberto Rossellini, Michael Powell, and Douglas Sirk. (Lena’s mother is played by Angela Molina, from Luis Buñuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire, and that may or may not mean something here.) Rossy de Palma is one of the few actors from the director’s stable, although the master to whom Almodóvar pays greatest homage is, um, Almodóvar. There are wonderful gags built around the movie Mateo makes with Lena, and the best is that it looks exactly like Almodóvar’s biggest hit, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.

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