Film Review: 'Broken Embraces' maintains Almodóvar's high standards

'Broken Embraces'  is Penélope Cruz' fourth film with director Pedro Almodóvar. Sony Pictures Classics

"Broken Embraces" is Penélope Cruz' fourth film with director Pedro Almodóvar. Sony Pictures Classics

By this point, the phrase "Un Film de Almodóvar" -- as Spain's Pedro Almodóvar typically signs his work -- connotes a genre unto itself, as identifiable by its themes, character types and visual trademarks as a Western or screwball comedy.

'Broken Embraces'  is Penélope Cruz' fourth film with director Pedro Almodóvar. Sony Pictures Classics

"Broken Embraces" is Penélope Cruz' fourth film with director Pedro Almodóvar. Sony Pictures Classics

Almodóvar's films -- he has directed 17 features in the past 30 years -- arrive at regular intervals, offering fans a distinctive and pleasurable blend of melodrama and high style, influenced to a large extent by the classic "women's pictures" of Hollywood, with a Pop sensibility highlighted by vibrant, often primary colors, radiant decor and the presence of beautiful and eccentric-looking women. (A nonfan might describe this as a "formula.") The result can be simultaneously campy and dead-serious.

"Broken Embraces" maintains the high standards Almodóvar established during the past decade, when his films became increasingly popular in America. ("Talk to Her" earned a Best Director Oscar nomination in 2002 -- rare recognition for a foreign-language film.) Like other recent movies by the director, it's alternately comic and suspenseful, and its storyline is knotted with family secrets and sexual misconduct.

Lluís Homar stars as a blind movie director who now goes by his hard-boiled screenwriting nickname, "Harry Caine." The news of the death of a millionaire financier (José Luis Gómez) brings back memories of the past, when Harry began a dangerous affair with the rich man's mistress (Penélope Cruz, in her fourth Almodóvar film), during the shooting of a comedy that was intended to make the woman a star. (The film-within-the-film is a sort of remake of Almodóvar's own "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.")

"Broken Embraces" isn't the director's best work, but it would be churlish to deny the gratifications of this film, with its amusing actors, glossy images and complicated, telenovela- by-way-of-Alfred-Hitchcock storyline.

In Spanish with English subtitles, the film is at Malco's Ridgeway Four.

-- John Beifuss: 529-2394

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