04 January 2010

Review: "Los Abrazos Rotos" (Broken Embraces)

My affection for Penélope Cruz has almost become an obsession in the past few years. I had such a strong dislike for her after seeing Vanilla Sky, and even her role in Blow did not help. It was an afternoon in 2006 when I first saw Volver, and I was instantly mesmerized. She was pure perfection on screen and since that moment I have adored her. It was a match made in heaven when she worked with Woody Allen in Vicky Cristina Barcelona and deservedly won an Oscar. She has once again teamed with Pedro Almodóvar for Los Abrazos Rotos (Broken Embraces), a film about love and passion filmed as a noir (though done with the vivid colours of Almodóvar films). Pedro Almodóvar is easily Spain's most internationally renowned film director, having won Academy Awards for Best Original Screenplay (2002's Hable con Ella) and Best Foreign Language Film (1999's Todo sobre mi madre). His films can be controversial, but it is very clear in watching his work that he has considered every step along the way. Los Abrazos Rotos stars Lluís Homar and Penélope Cruz, with Blanca Portillo and Lola Dueñas (both of whom starred with Penélope Cruz in Volver).

The film is set in present day with many flashbacks to the 1990s. Mateo Blanco (Homar) was once a famous film director, and after losing his eyesight he becomes Harry Caine, a screenwriter. The only person who knows his true identity is his agent Judit (Portillo), who remains a vital part his life. After learning that a man named Ernesto Matel (José Luis Gómez) has died, he is visited by a young man named Ray X (Rubén Ochandiano) who wants to Harry to help write a semi-autobiographical screenplay. He refuses once he finds out Ray X's true identity. While Judit is abroad her son Diego (Tomar Novas) suffers from an accidental overdose and Harry spends time telling Diego story involving Ernesto Martel, Martel's young wife Lena (Penélope Cruz) and his attempt to direct a film. The events that unfold involve everyone in the film, a story about love, jealousy and betrayal.

Los Abrazos Rotos is impeccably shot, its vivid colours filling the screen. The film is carried by its actors, and while Penélope Cruz is as radiant as she has ever been, the film belongs to
Lluís Homar. He must play two different characters who are the same man. I was completely engrossed by the film and mesmerized by the colours, the dialogue and the performances. In terms of colours, the film is drenched with red (hence my choice of font colour). Red is the colour of love, lust and passion. There is a central mystery which links the events of the present to those of the past, and though we may figure it out before Almodóvar unveils it, we realize it that the journey was more important. Los Abrazos Rotos, while not quite as profound as Volver or Hable con Ella, is a beautiful film worthy of second and third viewings and I can only hope that foreign films become just as accessible as Hollywood blockbusters.

My rating: 4 stars out of 4.

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