11.29.2009

Broken Embraces

(spoiler alerts!)


Broken Embraces
is the first Almodovar movie I want to rewrite.

First, let me say I was captive for the full 2 hours. It's beautiful to watch, and moving and funny in places.

But in the end I almost feel cheated. There was no murder (there almost was) no adultery (there sort of was) no hookers (a hint of one) no abused sons or nuns. None of the usual melodramatics Almodovar uses as his material But these histrionics that Almodovar uses in his movies are usually what he transcends to make astonishing, surprising, giant and humane works.

In Broken Embraces, Almodovar under-challenged himself. His task here seemed to be to make a story full of mostly reasonable if somewhat obsessed people. It's like was trying to make Husbands and Wives.

Broken Embraces is not:

--A movie about a secretary who wants to be an actress and occasionally sells her body to further her ends though that story is in there.
--About the gay son, in adulthood, who only upon his father's death musters the strength to transcend his father's oppressive hand though that story is in there.
--It's not about the obsessive business man with his fingers and strings in everything, though that story is in there.
--It's not about a fraught love affair, a secret son, jealousy and camaraderie over 2 decades of shared creativity, though that story is in there

In fact, I'm not sure what Broken Embraces is about, except being in love with Penelope Cruz.

In the end, I hate to say (because I'm sorry to make any artist fulfill my expectations) that what I want Almodovar to break my heart, to surprise me with another person who at first seems unlovable, or who commits acts that should make me want to turn away. But he makes me/you love them. Almodovar opens those people out and it almost feels like he's watching as you learn to love them.

In this new movie, you start out by loving Cruz, his star. Everyone loves her. Her only impropriety is a momentary glimpse and feels like a plot device. The only character you're don't much like at first isn't a real character, and you don't really know or like him more by the end. HR COSTIGANHe's too simple, he's just a type, like HR Costigan before Jaime Hernandez drew BAY OF THREES.

Here's what I would offer as possible rewrites:

--The Ernesto Jr character kills Lena. NOW why did he show up on Mateo's door when his father died?
--So Lena hooks on the side? What does that entail? WHY? What kind of actress is she anyway? Is she good?
--The son Diego is known from the beginning. Everyone knows anyway. Get the confession out of there.
--Lena shines when she is really loved. Show this in the film Mateo is making. The dichotomy between her normal fraught life and her vitality on screen when she is genuinely loved should be marked larger.
--Judit is full of potential. Who is she? She can never be a Lena, that's for sure. Show that.
--Who is Ernesto Sr? Chilean? Did he make his money under Pinochet? Who is he? Where is more of his trail?
--Mateo shines when he can aid his son Diego in writing the latter's dumb vampire script. Show that relationship.

All the above is latent in the movie, just not explored or opened much for consideration. Instead, it's a love letter to Penelope Cruz, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and movie making in general(and not even movies, just some vague notion of movie making.)

Almodovar usually breaks my heart, forcing me to see it in a new way while I pick up the pieces. Even the movies of his that don't instantly do this (I'm thinking Bad Education) are still stirring.

I'll see this one again and hopefully learn to love it. But I wanted my heart broken, dammit.

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