Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Los abrazos rotos (Broken Embraces)

THIS is pure classic Pedro Almodovar, a story within a story, and a movie within a movie, that cuts back and forward in time and is shot in a highly stylised manner.
As in Hable con elle (Talk to Her), La mala educación (Bad Education) and Carne trémula (Live Flesh) Almodovar depicts his characters living in the present and then flashes back to a key event or series of events in their past.
Harry Caine (formerly known as Mateo Blanco) is a blind writer living in Madrid who is approached by a younger man, calling himself Ray X, who wants to pay him a fortune to write a script based on his relationship with his father.
However, Mateo recognises his voice as that of someone from his past and with the help of others manages to place him.
The film flashes back to 14 years earlier when Lena, played by Penelope Cruz becomes involved with billionaire businessman Ernesto, who is in his 70s.
She wants to be an actress and approaches Mateo who gives here a role in a film he has written and which she persuades Ernesto to finance.
Ernesto's son, Ernesto jnr, - who Mateo recognised as Ray X, films the filming and then delivers the footage to his father who employs a lip reader to find out what Meteo and Lena are saying to one another.
There is some fine acting from José Luis Gómez, who plays Ernesto, and you can almost see him being eaten up by jealousy as he realises that Lena and Mateo are having an affair and that Lena loathes him.
In a fit of rage he pushes Lena down a staircase - a knowingly cinematic scene and one which is repeated in the film that Mateo is making to explain why Lena, when she returns to the set of the film she is staring in, is wearing a plastercast.
Despite Ernesto's violence Lena returns to him, telling Mateo that she must stay with him until the movie is completed but when she is injured again the lovers flee Madrid and hide out on the island of Lanzarote.
Ernesto gets back at them by paying the editors of the film that they were working on to choose the worst takes and splice them together and release it to a huge fanfare which is panned by the critics and in sees Mateo and Lena being ridiculed.
Mateo decides to go back to Madrid to sort things out, leaving Lena in Lanzarote but on the way to the airport a car crashes into the them, killing Lena and leaving Mateo blind.
He can still write but no longer direct films so he insists that he should from then on be known as Harry Caine, his pen name, and that Mateo Blanco the film producer died alongside Lena.
By recounting the story Mateo is reconcilled to the past that he has tried to kill off along with his former identity and in the telling he begins to realise that many loose ends have not been tied up.
It is a film full of symbolism, Dario, the son of Mateo's agent Judit empties a bag of torn photos and starts to piece together a picture of Lena and Mateo, just as he helps Mateo piece together the events that lead to his lover dying.
There are visual clues as well as verbal ones scattered throughout the film that help pave the way for a series of denouements towards the end.
In the scenes where Lena is pushed down the stairs, Lena remarks that it is the sort of thing that only happens in movies, and it does here, twice. Almodovar is proudly cinematographic auteur who is not afraid to acknowledge that this is cinema rather than gritty reality.

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