For the price of a single admission, Pedro Almodóvar’s latest, “Broken Embraces,” offers an encyclopedia of movies.
Packed with both identified and sneaky scenes from classic films, it is a cineaste’s delight, self-referential
to a fault, a work to treasure — and probably to watch again.
Almodóvar has become one of the greatest storytellers of our times. For more than three decades now, 30 of his films have cast a spell over audiences. Many are too long — as is this, at more than two hours — but they are rarely boring.
A few — especially 1999’s “All About My Mother” and 2002’s “Talk to Her” — go far beyond being interesting. They are great, unforgettable films.
“Broken Embraces” tells as compelling a story as Almodóvar has come up with yet; it’s bright and witty film noir in which high humor and dark deeds mix freely. Yet it doesn’t measure up to the director’s best, only because the vivid, fascinating characters lack depth and relevance.
The film isn’t moving, but it’s engaging, entertaining and clever fun.
It’s thrilling to watch Penélope Cruz in yet another appealing performance — the way her character Lena is caught up between a rich old sugar daddy (José Luis Gómez) and her true-love movie director (Lluís Homar).
The director is blind, but does great work (thanks, Pedro, we get that). His punishment for stealing Lena is that his fabulous comedy is deliberately mis-edited before release. The documentation of the editing process could save you a whole semester in film school. (This is just a subplot, not a spoiler.)
The film-within-the-film, called “Girls and Suitcases,” consists of variations on a scene from Almodóvar’s “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.” His “Matador,” “Bad Education” and “High Heels” all come into play.
More about the encyclopedic: Consider that Cruz’s character alone includes aspects of Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly and Sabrina; Giuletta Masina from “La strada”; Shirley MacLaine from “Some Came Running” and “The Apartment”; Gene Tierney; Linda Darnell; Constance Bennett; Claudia Cardinale; and “all the heroines of Italian neo-realism, a style that has always been an inspiration to me,” Almodóvar says.
That’s just for starters. How this man loves his business!
Starring Penélope Cruz, Lluís Homar, José Luis Gómez
Written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar
Running time 2 hours 7 minutes