Skip to content

Los Abrazos Rotos (Broken Embraces)

September 14, 2009

Almodóvar’s latest – like all of his stuff, just about – is a film in love with film, and like many of the others, it is also in love with Penélope Cruz. I have no problem with either, but unlike the earlier movies I didn’t adore it, and I really wanted to.

Los Abrazos Rotos is a splendidly convoluted love story told from 2008, taking in 1992 and 1994 via extensive flashbacks. Mateo (Lluís Homar), now known as Harry, is a blind screenwriter of some fame, who tells his accomplice Diego about the beautiful Lena (Cruz) with whom he had a passionate affair as he attempted to shoehorn her modest talents carefully into his movie of the moment. From this point we uncover a series of lies, liaisons and love affairs that affect all members of the large and impressive cast, and help to explain why our writer hero changed his name.

In many ways Abrazos echos every other Almodóvar film (it is as brash as Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, as intimate as Talk To Me and as gleefully complex as Volver) but at the same time it is also unlike any of them; it is elegant and velvety and where once were primary colours we now have the veneer of genuine taste, it never quite catches fire emotionally and the final pay-off does not move. The actions that are absurd but accepted in his previous work here show the joins, and it seems like he is trying that little bit too hard. This is a film about film, but for once we have to clearly acknowledge that it is artificial.

I don’t wish to sound so harsh, for, as I discovered after Volver, an Almodóvar confection is something to be cherished, as it is always going to be unlike anything else you’ll see that year. And so it proves, but there is definitely something missing. Ironically, and it pains me to say this, it may be with Cruz that the problem lies. Like her Raimunda in Volver, she is almost luminescently glorious. No, strike that; she is luminescently glorious, so lovely to look at that she simply glows up there on the screen, our generation’s Rita Hayworth, but for this story it is sadly just a step too far. With Raimunda, being a down at heel beaten-up housewife from a poor neighbourhood she exhibited a quality that allowed her to transcend her surroundings. Here, it obscures, it bends the true light of the story, it refracts and detracts.

Aarrgh, and that’s what I’m doing. Look, I love watching Cruz, I thought she was exceptional in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, the best thing on show in Elegy by a country mile, and that’s after being an anti-fan for way too long, and there is no-one more evangelical than a convert. But it doesn’t work, as lovely as she is.

Fortunately, there is so much good stuff elsewhere that it almost doesn’t matter. Blanca Portillo is fabulous as Mateo’s agent Judit, and José Luis Gómez’s cuckolded husband Ernesto is a delight. The cinematic references (Peeping Tom, Suspicion, Marnie, Voyage to Italy) are smart and pristine, the music is exceptional (with a light hand on the tiller, Alberto Iglesias summons up dread and passion and all manner of heady emotion in a just few spare notes) and the cinematography is exemplary.

Which is why it is so regretful that Abrazos falls short of true greatness, but if the sum of its parts may not be the whole we had hoped for it is only because with Almodóvar we expect so much. There is still much to see here, so don’t move along, take in what’s on show. It’s still better than pretty much anything else.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: