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August 25, 2019 | Rome, Italy

Los abrazos rotos (Broken Embraces)

By | 2018-03-21T18:40:23+02:00 May 8th, 2010|Reviews|

2.5

Date: 2009

Director: Pedro Almodóvar

Starring: Jose Luis Gonzales, Penelope Cruz, Ruben Ochandiano, Lluis Homar, Blanco Portillo, Tamar Novas

Director Pedro Almodóvar poured so much of his heart into previous films there was nothing left for “Los Abrazos Rotos” (“Broken Embraces”). In place of the usual soulfulness and depth is an $18 million budget (his heftiest to date) and an irksome, tangled cast of characters who panhandle for sympathy but get chump change instead.

It’s a chore to pity uninteresting Lena (Almodóvar’s muse Penélope Cruz). To pay for her dying father’s medical bills she becomes the mistress of much older millionaire Ernesto Martel (Jose Luis Gomez). Envious and trigger-happy, Ernesto makes a predictable benefactor. No surprise, of course, that he enlists his awkward, sexually-confused son Ernesto Jr. (Ruben Ochandiano) to spy on Lena with a camcorder when she snags the lead role in director Harry Caine’s (Lluis Homar) latest film.

Caine falls for Lena, just as Ernesto suspects. Ernesto Jr. catches the developing romance on video but when the elder Ernesto plays it back he cannot hear the lovers’ words, and hires a speech interpreter to read their lips. Lena eventually walks in on the lip reading. It’s a pivotal moment: Almodóvar’s trademark melodrama abandons high art and turns to daytime soap opera for inspiration. Legs are broken, film careers are smeared. In the end Caine and Lena are fugitives, but their survival feels insignificant.

The sub-plot is what’s compelling. Years later Caine is living quietly with his production manager Judit (the sharp, admirable Blanco Portillo) and her son Diego (Tamar Novas). How their present world crumbles when the story of Lena is reintroduced is mesmerizing, a thumbprint from classic Almodóvar that — thankfully — he didn’t scrub away.

About the Author:

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Lauren Jurgensen graduated with a degree in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Mary Washington. When she wasn't studying the coming-of-age rituals of West Africans, she was writing daily for local papers in the Washington, D.C.-Metro area. A passion for spreading the word about world cinema eventually led her to become president of the campus film club. There, she insisted on screening Italian crime dramas and the Rome-set films of director Federico Fellini. She lives in Virginia, where she writes haiku, bikes, and builds an endless personal library of books and vinyl records.

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