Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

Broken Embraces - The Plight of Self-Indulgence


Review by Eoin O’Faolain

It probably happens to every film-maker: once success rears its ugly head, it’s only a matter of time until he or she ends up making something deeply personal to his or herself, but meaning very little to anyone else. Occasionally it works, when that enthusiasm can be fully shared, such as Woody Allen utilizing his personal problems to make amusing, self-deprecating films, or Tarantino’s recent world of film-geek references, Inglourious Basterds. But sadlym Spain’s best modern director, Pedro Almodovar, fails to elevate his self-indulgence into true art with his latest movie, Broken Embraces.

Being a film-maker, the film is set in the world of film-makers. Mateo, or Harry Caine as he is now known, is a director who is now blind yet still writing. After hearing about the death of a millionaire businessman called Ernesto Martel, Mateo begins to reminisce about Magdalena, an actress that Mateo fell for on the set of a failed project and who happened to be Martel’s mistress. As Mateo’s reflections detail the nature of his and Magdalena’s tragic relationship, Mateo’s surprising connections with his assistant Judit and her talented son Diego are revealed.

Broken Embraces is a dull affair from beginning to end. While Almodovar has a knack for creating an intriguing melodrama that walks a very thin line between soap opera and genuine, emotional experiences, this film certainly veers towards the former. Perhaps the main reason is the rather contemptible nature of every character in the film. Mateo is a womanizer with little charm, and we’re given little to see beyond his lust. Magdalena, while aptly portrayed by Penelope Cruz, is frustratingly weak, even agreeing to remaining living with her abusive husband after being pushed down the stairs. So their passion for each other fails to resonate, and feels distinctly “passionate”.

The self-indulgence reaches a peak as the plot of lost love subsides and instead Mateo focuses his energy on the film he made with Magdalena which was ruined by the financier. We see the takes used to make the “awful” original and eventually we see the recut film (which intentionally resembles Almodovar’s earlier films like Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown), which one character proclaims to be “hilarious”. Ironically, what we see is as flat as the original, and this scene only highlights how Almodovar’s ego has grabbed hold of his characters and forced such undeserved compliments.

And so we are left with romantic tragedy that doesn’t make us feel particularly strong about its unlikable leads, and a love song to cinema that will more than likely make you lose your love of films for about 127 minutes.

2 / 5 stars

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