Pedro’s oddball universe

More oddball characters and ‘sprawling narrative’ from Pedro Almodóvar

Broken Embraces
Pageant Theatre. Rated R.
Rated 4.0

This film’s points of special interest include, in no particular order: a filmmaker who’s gone blind, a fatal car wreck, Penélope Cruz, a couple of doomed romances, a film-within-a-film, some backstage melodrama in a movie-business setting, an assortment of family secrets and scandals, some playfully outlandish plot twists, and a quirky network of offbeat relationships.

That list should tell you more about this movie than a conventional plot summary would. After all, this is a Pedro Almodóvar production, and so sprawling narrative abundance and oddball combinations of character and situation are to be expected.

Cruz plays Lena, an ambitious young woman who rides her love affair with well-to-do industrialist Ernesto Martel (José Luis Gómez) into the beginnings of a movie career. The central-most character in the story, however, is a filmmaker named Mateo Blanco (Lluís Homar), who directs Lena’s film debut and who takes on the pseudonymic identity of “Harry Caine” after he is blinded.

Blanco/Caine is the central presence in the film’s expansive Almodóvarian approach to tragicomedy, and Cruz’s Lena emerges as the muse for the entire vision of their story and relationship, past and present. Some of the most intriguing developments emerge in and through Mateo’s peculiarly complex relations with several secondary characters, especially his longtime assistant Judit (Blanco Portillo) and a strange young man who calls himself Ray X (Rubén Orchandiano).

Broken Embraces is not quite up to the exceptional level of the Almodóvar works that have previously and recently come our way—Volver, Bad Education, Talk to Her, All About My Mother. But it still has many of those films’ distinctive virtues in play, and so there’s plenty here to ponder and savor.