Combustible Celluloid
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With: Penélope Cruz, Lluís Homar, Blanca Portillo, José Luis Gómez, Rubén Ochandiano, Tamar Novas, Ángela Molina, Chus Lampreave, Kiti Manver, Lola Dueñas, Kira Miró
Written by: Pedro Almodóvar
Directed by: Pedro Almodóvar
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content, language and some drug material
Language: Spanish, with English subtitles
Running Time: 128
Date: 03/17/2009

Broken Embraces (2009)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director's Directions

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Pedro Almodovar's latest feels a bit lackluster after his recent string of excellent films (All About My Mother, Talk to Her, Bad Education and Volver), but it still contains some inspired, cinema-on-cinema sequences. And Penelope Cruz is irresistible as the tormented lover, sometimes seen gussied up like a modern-day Audrey or Marilyn.

A former film director named Mateo Blanco is now blind and writing scripts under the name Harry Caine (Lluis Homar). His trustworthy agent Judit (Blanca Portillo) sells them, and her son Diego (Tamar Novas) drops by to help out. A creepy filmmaker called "Ray X" (Ruben Ochandiano) approaches Harry about a story, and it triggers a flashback to the early 1990s, when Mateo was making what would become his final film. He cast the beautiful Lena (Cruz), who was the mistress of a powerful businessman, Ernesto Martel (Jose Luis Gomez). Unfortunately, the actress and director fell in love, triggering a series of tragic events that lead up to the present day.

Almodovar has fun re-creating (and modifying) scenes from Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988), and Ernesto watches "dailies" from a documentary on the making of the film, looking for clues that Lena is having an affair. The film lacks Almodovar's usual bursts of color, and -- though his touch for passionate melodrama is intact -- the tone feels a little soggy, rather than fiery. But there's still enough here for fans to enjoy.

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