Director: Pedro Almodóvar Release Date: 28/08/09 Link: IMDB Review by Newell Hampson-Jones Have you seen that BMW advert that is preceding every film at the cinema right now? Who wrote that shite? I bet he – because it just has to be a he - looks at himself in the mirror every morning, doing that thing with his pecs that advertising bastards do. Full of smug self-satisfaction that this ad burns the eyes and boils the blood to an extent that any cinephile, no matter how patient, is close to gunning down the entire theatre in protest. The BMW advert sets a very high bar for whatever film that follows. In order for your night not to be ruined by this ad-man's spunk session, the subsequent movie has to wipe it out of your mind. You have to forget its existence. You need to stop picturing the ad-man flexing in the mirror. Thankfully Pedro Almodóvar’s latest offering, Broken Embraces, is just the movie to do it. The film flits between the present day and 1994 as blind screenwriter, Mateo Blanco (Lluís Homar), comes to terms with the events that led to him taking on and then becoming his pseudonym, Harry Caine. The death of a former, powerful business partner and a visit by (the quite preposterously named) Ray X become catalysts which force Mateo to face the painful memories that he and his personal assistant Judit (Blanca Portillo) have tried to hide from in recent years. After Judit’s son, Diego, falls ill clubbing Mateo nurses him back to health to prevent her from returning early from an important business trip. Diego is intrigued at the appearance of Ray X, and the hostility he receives from Mateo and Judit afterwards, asking to be told the truth behind their antagonism. Marco revisits his story, narrating a tragedy of jealousy, betrayal and some pretty good sex whilst making new discoveries about the woman he loved and those whom he has depended on throughout his life. Early indications seem to suggest that this bar may not be set too high for Almodóvar. Penelope Cruz's BFF has again delivered a film that critics are raving about like a group of men in trench coats standing in front of a risqué American Apparel poster. He's put Cruz front and centre again (here playing secretary and part time call girl Lena) making the critics fall over themselves in platitudes. So let's get the Penelope Cruz clusterfuck out of the way. Yes, it's indisputable that she is excellent and Almodóvar brings out her best again in another multi-dimensional, strong performance showing that Cruz deserves to be considered a world class actress. But there is more to this film than Penelope Cruz. Lluís Homar puts in the stand out performance as Harry, showing sorrow, charm and strength making what is essentially a bit of a prick incredibly likable. Rubén Ochandiano brings a menace not dissimilar to Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men to Ray X, but also adds a gawky humour which gives pathos to his otherwise psychopathic actions. Almodóvar's writing is much stronger in Broken Embraces than I felt it was in Bad Education and Volver. Lena flips from film noir femme fatale to tragic heroine in a matter of minutes. Ernesto is built up slowly from being a typically sleazy, nasty-piece-of-work bad guy to becoming one of cinema's truly evil bastards, whose sick grip is tightened around the characters like a vice when he is off screen. Most impressively, Mateo begins the film a roguish man-whore and ends it a damaged, heart-broken testament to unfulfilled love. Almodóvar's skilful direction is also at its peak. The typically vivid colours that are always present in his films stands out more against the noir tone of the soundtrack and script and give the warmth and depth to the love story that might otherwise be missing without them. His camerawork is deft; best shown during the sex scenes (no surprises that I was paying attention here). The camera reflects the mood of the characters during the moment: slow panning during a disconnected no strings shag, quick panicked movements during claustrophobic and suffocating clinch and dizzying, unfettered spinning during a good old-fashioned, passionate rooting. It's difficult to pin down genre in any Almodóvar film. Here, there's film noir, melodrama, love and a small touch of subtle humour that adds to the drama without trying to overpower it. With all these genres supporting, not fighting, with each other, Almodóvar has done what he always does. He hasn't just told a story or directed a film; he's made something much bigger-a piece of absolute beauty and tragedy. Now imagine if we were able to convince him to fix those bloody BMW ads.