‘Broken Embraces’ is an arty soap opera

Penelope Cruz as Lena in ‘Broken Embraces’ (Images courtesy Sony Pictures Classics),

It’s always an event when a new Pedro Almodovar movie hits the theaters, and this Christmas he presents Minnesota with “Broken Embraces.” It’s the story of a writer Harry Cain (Lluis Homar) who was a film maker until he lost his eyesight. We quickly learn Harry is a complicated character, successful with women, but carrying the weight of a torrid and tragic past.

Over the course of the next couple of hours we get to examine Harry’s life and regrets. This is no simple journey however. As only Almodovar can the story unfolds like an amphetamine-fueled telenovella, leaping across decades, and between a host of characters, many of whom carry secrets as dark as Harry’s.

Along the way we meet Lena (Penelope Cruz), the mistress of a wealthy tycoon, for whom Harry immediately falls head over heels. Soon Harry casts Lena as the lead in his latest comedy, and things get really complicated.

The breakneck pace of the plot, and the twists and revelations, both dark and humorous, make this a hoot to watch. Yet unlike a soap opera there is a lot of depth to Almodovar’s romp. He explores the intricacies of forbidden love, the niceties of Spanish life, and the creative process both in terms of writing and film making.

Almodovar (pictured left on set with Cruz) uses his stars effectively as foils in his exploration. They come across sometimes as tragic figures, but just as often as capricious childish. While the always watchable Cruz becomes the central focus of the film, Homar carries much of the narrative, and convincingly places a man who changes through time and tragedy.

This film is much more complicated than “Volver,” and less immediately satisfying. However “Broken Embraces” will no doubt draw repeated viewings and reveal more each time.

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