Saturday, January 30, 2010

Broken Embraces

One of the most disappointing films I've seen this fall/winter, Almodovar's Broken Embraces is so clunky and inconsequential it might have been directed by someone trying to put together a pastiche of Almodovar's familiar stopping places of Penelope Cruz, movies, and intense mother/child relationships. A movie centered around Cruz's character Lena might have worked as a piece of high-toned melodrama; Lena is a secretary who becomes the lover of a possessive tycoon (Jose Luis Gomez) and later the muse and lover the of the successful filmmaker Mateo (Lluis Homar). Mateo, who narrates the early '90s events of the story from the present, is now blind and works as a screenwriter with would-be directors like Ray X (Ruben Ochandiano). The too-intense Ray has an unsurprising connection to the rest of the story that becomes clear as the flashbacks unfold, but what's more unusual about him is that (in the Almodovar films I've seen) he's the first weak gay character. The Ray we see in the 1990's segment of the film is passive, needy, and ugly to an almost comical degree; it's troubling to see Almodovar getting cheap laughs this way - there's also the minor character of an obviously gay hairdresser who is only referred to as "Faggot."

But Lena isn't the main character, it's the dull Mateo. We first see Mateo getting the paper read to him by a blonde whom he then sleeps with and that's about as active as he gets. Mateo's passion for Lena doesn't feel well-conceived or organic to this material; Almodovar is just getting off on the story of a director obsessed with his blond-wigged leading lady. Life-changing events occur and a betrayal is revealed (in a particularly stagey scene) but the characters are so flat and mood so dour that none of it matters. Pedro Almodovar needs some new obsessions and maybe some new cast members for his next film; Broken Embraces feels like the product of a brand rather than a filmmaker.

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