Sunday, January 3, 2010

Broken Embraces (SPANISH)

Broken Embraces [Theatrical Release]

(Los Abrazos Rotos)
Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Penelope Pleases Afresh in Yet Another Almodovar Soap Opera

Fresh off her 2009 Oscar win for Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Penelope Cruz is back with what might be a more deserving performance in Broken Embraces, another Spanish soap opera revolving around a messy love quadrangle. The movie marks her fourth collaboration with director Pedro Almodovar, who previously featured the versatile actress in Live Flesh, All about My Mother and Volver.
In Broken Embraces, she plays Lena, an aspiring actress who sells her soul, or should I say body, twice. Her first deal with a devil comes in 1992, while working as a secretary for the elderly Ernesto Martel (Jose Luis Gomez), a multi-millionaire businessman. She starts sleeping with her smitten boss in order to get him to pay for her terminally-ill father’s medical expenses.
When Lena tires of that restrictive arrangement after a couple years, she decides to dust off her dream of becoming a movie star. So, she asks her possessive sugar daddy for permission to audition to appear in a picture he’s producing, Chica y Maletas, a flick eerily reminiscent of Almodovar’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.
Despite not being all that gifted, Lena nonetheless lands the lead via the proverbial casting couch, by shamelessly flirting with Mateo (Lluis Homar), the flattered, considerably-older director. However their naughty antics continue on and off the set, a development not lost on jealous old Ernesto, who has his obedient, gay heir, Ernesto, Jr. (Ruben Ochandiano), monito their movements with a video camera. Equally miffed is Mateo’s agent, Judit (Blanca Portillo), who had a son (Tamar Novas) with him and still harbors strong feelings for her former beau.
All of the above unfolds in convoluted fashion in Broken Embraces, an elliptical flashback tale told from the perspective of a blind and broken Mateo who in the present only answers to the name Harry Caine. Curiously, he’s not the only character employing a pseudonym here, there’s elusive Ernesto, Jr, who goes by Ray X. They have their reasons, trust me.
As the plot thickens, Broken Embraces proves to be an ever so appropriate title, both literally and figuratively, once Ernesto becomes enraged upon learning from his son’s surveillance tapes that Lena is indeed cheating on him. In an exhibition of trademark Spanish temper, the irate mogul gets even by shoving her down a flight of stairs, thereby not only breaking her ankle and disfiguring her pretty face, but disrupting the production schedule of Chica y Maletas.
The antagonistic antics only further escalate, and by the time the dust finally settles, the physically and emotionally scarred survivors of this weary war of attrition can do little more than wistfully reminisce about what might otherwise have been. Vicky Cristina Madrid.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity, sexuality and drug use.
In Spanish and English with subtitles.
Running time: 127 Minutes
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

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