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BROKEN EMBRACES: Almodovar's picture puzzle

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With the Oscar buzz in full swing, I decided it was time to catch up on some of the films that probably should-have-been-but-were-not part of that buzz starting with Pedro Almodovar’s BROKEN EMBRACES. It’s not fair to blame the Academy, after all Spain’s Oscar shortlist committee were the ones who curiously snubbed it. Once in the theater however, I forgot all about the Oscars. I dropped happily into Almodovar’s magical world of films within films, boldly graphic sets with paintings of fruit the size of boulders, and his headstrong Spanish women who seem to charge into every scene like beautiful matadors. Sure some of the dialogue was a little clunky and some of the twists and turns a tad more melodramatic than I usually like. But all I could think as I was leaving was a quote that I’ve heard attributed to the screenwriter Robert Towne: “A movie is five or six moments.” I, however, would tweak that slightly and say… an Almodovar movie is five or six luscious images you can’t forget…

The story is a tragic romantic noir. I could describe the twists and turns but it would probably sound convoluted and contrived which it is a bit, but Almodovar is so brilliant when it comes to taking these windy unraveling stories and serving them up in one delightful moment after delightful moment.  Let’s just say it ends badly for the lovers and the way Almodovar breaks apart the film into puzzle pieces of sound and image and then puts them back together in both pleasing and disturbing configurations is as suspenseful and delightful and tragic as it is a metaphor for the way the relationships are torn apart and mended. But back to images…

The images that ARE the film to me were not all available as stills so I’ve found some alternates.  I’ll describe them though – two are sex scenes which is a rarity – how many truly memorable and visual sex scenes have I seen? Not many:

Harry Caine/Mateo (Lluis Homar) has sex with a woman he just met on the street. From behind the couch we only see the sliver of his body appearing gracefully above the top of the back rest over and over as he energetically makes love to her.

Lena (Penelope Cruz) and Martel (Jose Luis Gomez) have sex wrapped up in their white sheets like mummified corpses. Beautiful and frighteningly claustrophobic. This is the “after” moment:

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Lena against the backdrop of large fruit paintings  as if they are ready to strike. (two examples from two different films within the film).

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Mateo’s hands reaching towards a television stopped on a pixelated image of his last embrace with Lena.

There’s one more – Mateo and his son Diego (Tamar Novas) on the beach. It’s simple and beautiful and impossible to describe effectively – you’ll have to go see.

-LR