Perhaps this is the film that Pedro Almodovar has been building towards throughout his career. Using the feature that launched him internationally-- namely Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown-- as the inspiration for the fictitious film-within-a-film framed inside of the puzzling Broken Embraces and setting the events throughout the film as well as our protagonist's life into two distinctly different time periods, Broken Embraces becomes something both unmistakably Almodovarian as well as something authentically human.
Like the director's best work, it has an emphasis on duplicity and in observing things in a near cracked mirror of memory which plays tricks on individuals, especially when someone manages to survive such an astounding trauma as our leading man does.
Introducing himself as a blind screenwriter who signs his scripts under his old pseudonym of Harry Caine even before he needed a cane to get around back when he was simply Mateo Blanco -- a movie director -- we initially meet the filmmaker on what we sense is a typical morning of pleasant luck. As, forever relying on the kindness of beautiful strangers, the blind man ends up getting more than just an assist across the street and a newspaper reader in a beautiful blonde who engages in a one-morning-stand.
Yet after the seductive good Samaritan shares the printed news that a former producer who spent his money on the last film that Mateo (now solely going by Harry) would ever make has died, the past catches up with Mateo in the most haunting of ways when the son of the deceased-- now calling himself Mr. X-- knocks on his door with the intention of making a scathing film about their relationship.
Wanting to collaborate with the talented Mateo, Mr. X is shot down and our lead -- unable to have seen exactly who his odd visitor was -- goes by his other senses, asking his assistant and young friend to look back into the production files and photos of his final film “Girls and Suitcases” where X's true identity is revealed.
Of course, X marks the spot of not just the past but also what has led to the present as Mateo begins relaying to his assistant just what exactly led up to the point where he had to take up a cane as Harry Caine after losing his true love Lena (Penelope Cruz) and nearly more than just his sight in a terrifying crash.
Gorgeously photographed and bursting with colors so bright and unsaturated that you know if the frames were laundry they'd run like mad, Almodovar's film which may in fact have surpassed the Oscar nominated Volver is a classically stylized masterwork that one can view as a tapestry of the same themes, obsessions, cast mates, movie passion, doppelgangers, doubles and overlapping plot points we've seen throughout his career.
A tale of erotic greed controlling a dangerous love triangle that consisted of Mateo, the now-deceased producer and Penelope Cruz's gorgeous secretary turned actress Lena who takes up with the elderly, cruel producer Ernesto out of guilt when he helps her deathly ill father, Broken Embraces is filled with as many secrets as All About My Mother.
Moreover, it manages to keep you engrossed even when admittedly you begin the extended flashback sequence slightly confused as you try to keep everything in the present and the past separate yet understood, not realizing that of course Almodovar has already come to the conclusion that time is circular and nothing really stays in the past.
Particularly electrifying on Sony Blu-ray where the colors pop and you're able to identify at least a few of upwards of a dozen classic movie references in the film from Blade Runner to Sabrina, Broken Embraces ranks among Almodovar's best films.
Likewise as also one of the most fascinating foreign imports of 2009, the film only gets stronger on a second viewing when you can better connect the pieces with even greater ease than a man tries to repair a coffee table filled photo collage of a broken embrace between Mateo and his long lost love.
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