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.
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