Pedro Almodovar has made a career out of operating on the thin line between reality and absurdity. From the musical numbers of Woman On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown (1998) to the suspenseful voyeurism of Bad Education (2004), Almodovar twists, turns, and weaves stories unlike any other. I find myself watching his trailers before going to the film and thinking: “no way this one’s gonna work. This one is gonna fall short.” Well, unfortunately this time I was right. Following 2006’s ghostly creative Volver, Almodovar fails to surprise or entertain in Broken Embraces. Penelope Cruz, sex, cripples and gays: sounds like an Almodovar film, right? Unfortunately, Pedro falls into a familiar stride and fails to move forward with his latest.
Almodovar often effectively uses time gaps to play out the drama of a story line (see Live Flesh). However, Broken Embraces takes the viewer on a roller coaster ride: the story is almost equally spread over two distinct moments in the characters’ lives. Rather than building suspense and intensity, this technique disrupts the pacing and pulls the viewer out of film just as they’re getting into it.
MOVIE IN A MOVIE
Many of the best scenes in this film take place on the set of a movie starring Penelope Cruz’s character: a captivating – yet struggling – actress who’s personal life is all too intermingled with her inconsistent takes and on-camera persona. Although the terrific off-camera drama is secretly captured on a handheld recorder (in perfect voyeuristic form, might I add) the scenes within the film are just plain bad. And come on, that title? Girls and Suitcases?!
SOAP OPERA ENDING
I like my Almodovar films to be over the top. And I’m okay with his frequently exaggerated finales. But I don’t want the story to be completely resolved. A great film lets the viewer connect the last few dots – if it finishes the entire arch, it falls into the dreaded category of having a predictable Hollywood Ending. Broken Embraces didn’t just drag on an extra half hour to spell out the entire plot, it relied on last minute twist and turns to play up drama. The problem? If the audience doesn’t care about the characters, the soap opera ending doesn’t work.
So there you have it. The positives? Broken Embraces is beautifully filmed down to every last shot. Almodovar once again proves that he is a master of his craft, however he falls into an uninteresting, overly complicated plot line and fails to deliver with this one. We can only hope that Pedro and Penelope have something of their sleeves for the next flick.