By Valentine Rossetti
Once more, the maestro of Spanish cinema, Pedro Almodóvar, gives us a heady mixture of suspense, stormy melodrama, and theatrically dramatic characters. Penélope Cruz is superb, José Luis Gómez is tantalisingly elegant, and Lluís Homar is outstanding; moreover, even putting aside all discussion of these three magnificent performances, one is still left with a visually ravishing film which blows all other current feature films out of the water. For Broken Embraces, Almodóvar has taken influence from the great 1940s and 1950s film noir exemplars; its narrative echoes Alfred Hitchcock’s 1943 thriller Shadow of a Doubt, and he has coupled this with the seductive cinematography of Rodrigo Prieto (nominated for an Academy award for his work on the equally-stunning Brokeback Mountain) in order to create something quite unique.
As in all Almodóvar films this world is populated with the beautifully deranged. Emotionally damaged characters dance with the devil and pay the consequences. It tells the story of Lena (Penélope Cruz), a vampish secretary and on-off call girl who is mistress to suave and wealthy businessman Ernesto (José Luis Gómez). Their relationship, which on Lena’s part was originally born out of a need for financial stability has, with the passing of time, become a tangled web of emotional manipulation. Cruz easily slips into the role of the classic seductress, with devastatingly sexy curves and smouldering expressions reminiscent of Ava Gardner in Bhowani Junction.
With a yearning desire for adventure, Lena pursues a career as an actress, eventually landing the star role in ‘Chicas y maletas’, where she meets and falls in love with the film’s director Mateo (Lluís Homar). After Ernesto becomes suspicious that the two are having an affair, fuelling the fires of his already raging paranoia, he can see his hold on Lena steadily begin to loosen, so much so that he orders his gay son Ernesto Jr (Rubén Ochandiano) to spy on the couple. It is then that the story takes a much darker turn.
Throughout the 127 minutes I sat in London’s IMAX cinema watching the intricate relationships unfold, the masks steadily slip away and the fluid transitions from the past to the present and vice versa, my mind was in a constant state of alertness as questions time and again regarding how these people had come to this point and what reasons lay behind their neuroses and their emotional malfunctioning.
With even just a rumour of a new release by Almodóvar, a collective evangelical fervour has engulfed cinema goers, ever since his 1988 breakthrough Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, that feast of postmodernist adoration and devilishly dark humour. Coming from the Post-Franco Madrid sub-culture, with its ‘anything goes!’ mentality and with a deep-seated desire to explore and reinvent the past, Almodóvar possesses a genius-like ability (which has certainly not diminished with age) to create worlds and characters that demand attention.
With Broken Embraces, he certainly does not disappoint, it still has that classic Almodóvar magic, with sexual exploration and magnified emotion playing a big role. Being neither fantasy nor realism, but a cerebral intertwining of the two, the finished product is a truly engrossing cinematic masterpiece.
Written under a Creative Commons License, with edits: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/1.0/
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