Blu-Ray Review: Great ‘Broken Embraces’ With Penelope Cruz

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CHICAGO – Very few directors have known how to utilize a star more effectively than the way Pedro Almodovar has turned Penelope Cruz from a gorgeous face into one of our best working actresses. Just the two films she’s made recently with Pedro - “Volver” and the new-to-DVD “Broken Embraces” - would earn her that title. “Broken Embraces” may not be perfect Pedro but sub-par Almodovar is still required viewing for all cineasts. Blu-Ray Rating: 4.0/5.0
Blu-Ray Rating: 4.0/5.0

“Broken Embraces” may not be quite the masterpiece that was the director’s “Talk to Her” or “Volver” but it is a far better film than one might think based on its general dismissal during its small theatrical release at the end of 2009, especially in HD. Very few directors have the colorful eye of Almodovar, a man made for 1080p.

Wildly self-referential and genre-hopping, “Broken Embraces” is a confidently directed slice of self-examination through the world of noir, the power of cinema, and the hazy fog of memory. Very few directors have ever been able to translate their passion for the medium in the way that Pedro Almodovar has with his body of work. Pedro’s films aren’t merely beautiful to look at and aren’t merely perfectly constructed, they are love songs to their creator’s true passion and “Broken Embraces” is very catchy tune.

Broken Embraces was released on Blu-ray and DVD on March 16th, 2010.
Broken Embraces was released on Blu-ray and DVD on March 16th, 2010.
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Video

Anytime someone as talented as Almodovar write a lead character who is a writer/director, it’s not hard to see that the subsequent film is going to something akin to self-examination. The lead is a man who opens by admitting to having created a new identity for himself (much as a writer/director does when he writes himself into a film) after going blind. His penname is Harry Caine (Lluis Homar) – a merging of names that, as Roger Ebert points out, could be a reference to Harry Lime and Citizen Kane, two Orson Welles characters, especially when later events in the film mirror what happened to Welles with the production of “The Magnificent Ambersons”.

Broken Embraces was released on Blu-ray and DVD on March 16th, 2010.
Broken Embraces was released on Blu-ray and DVD on March 16th, 2010.
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Video

Harry is visited by a man who calls himself Ray X (Ruben Ochandiano) who the writer/director immediately recognizes as a crucial voice from his past. After a series of events, Caine begins to recount the story of how he was blinded and the life he led when he was named Mateo.

Ray X is the son of Ernesto Martel (Jose Luis Gomez), the former producer of Mateo’s films. His final film was a work called “Girls and Suitcases” and Ernesto insisted that the director cast his mistress Lena (Penelope Cruz) in the lead role. Of course, Mateo/Harry and Lena soon found themselves in a passionate embrace, much to the dismay of the film’s producer. Mateo and Lena run off together, but what we know about Mateo’s present tinges the romantic, passionate moments of his past with expected tragedy.

And that’s just the beginning. Almodovar’s screenplay is arguably overcomplicated with flashbacks, revelations, and noir elements, but it’s all told in Pedro’s typically colorful style. Very few filmmakers have ever been able to make some as simple as a sunrise look so beautiful. It’s a gorgeous film, all the more so with a perfect Blu-ray transfer that jumps off the screen.

Then there’s Penelope. She delivers once again even with a somewhat undefined cipher of a role. She nails the emotions of the piece, adding shades of melancholy to a tragic character. The whole cast is good but even Almodovar seems to come to life when one of the beautiful women in the history of cinema is on the screen. Who can blame him?

The final act of “Broken Embraces” is a bit soapy as the revelations pile up to the point of exhaustion but there’s something so remarkable about Almodovar’s love for cinema that a little melodramatic license should be granted. If only there were more like him.

The Blu-ray release of “Broken Embraces” includes the following special features: Deleted Scenes, “Pedro Directs Penelope,” Variety Q&A With Penelope Cruz, “The Cannibalistic Councillor,” and “On the Red Carpet: The New York Film Festival Closing Night”.

‘Broken Embraces’ is released by Sony Pictures Home Video and stars Penelope Cruz, Lluis Homar, Blanca Portillo, Jose Luis Gomez, Ruben Ochandiano, and Tamar Novas. It was written and directed by Pedro Almodovar. It was released on Blu-ray and DVD on March 16th, 2010. It is rated R. content director Brian Tallerico

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