José Luis Gómez
It’s not hard to see why Penélope Cruz would inspire a filmmaker of the ilk of Pedro Almodóvar. He’s a filmmaker who has in the past built films around women with such adoration that one is left with no misunderstanding of his love of the so-called ‘fairer sex’. The difference between Cruz and the bevy of other talented women with whom Almodóvar works is that there seems to be an almost tangible connection between the pair – her in front of and him behind the lens of the camera. From the way he frames her and the way she responds, to the way he uses her innate ability to be simultaneously touching and hilarious, there seems to be something beyond just mere friendship at play here. This comes too from someone who has never been a huge fan of Almodóvar’s films. That is until at least the last couple.
Both Volver and Broken Embraces have really embraced Cruz for the sheer comedic and dramatic genius she possesses. In fact it’s not such a stretch to say that she is quite possibly the strongest actress to truly emerge from the last decade. Her work has been so consistently fantastic that one might suggest that this role of muse she seems to have played for Almodóvar has been reciprocated in some way in the effect he has had on her. For even her performances in non-Almodóvar films have hit new heights. Don’t Move is a prime example of a top-notch actress in stellar form.
The most impressive element of this relationship seems to be, however, that it doesn’t dominate the films they make together. Almodóvar’s ensemble is a consistent one and he relies heavily on the relationships he has obviously managed to develop with his uniformly strong cast. For Cruz, Homar, Portillo and Dueñas have all appeared in previous Almodóvar films and it’s with varying degrees that they seem to do so. Dueñas for example, so significant in Volver, is fleetingly seen here but it’s a presence still noted as an important part of the ensemble. And that’s one of the differentiating factors of this ensemble that seems to make it work.
The ensemble never grows stale or recognisable in a way that hinders an appreciation for the new characters on screen. While ensembles have been used before, the Guest and Allen films spring to mind, there inevitably ends up being a slightly distracting and almost community-theatre approach that negatively impacts on one’s appreciation for what is going on on-screen. With Almodóvar’s films this hasn’t yet been a factor but I’m not sure that that’s necessarily down to their gifts as actors or more that the melodrama Almodóvar employs seems to sweep the audience along on a journey wracked with affection, heartache and humour.
Only Almodóvar could get away with a film, for example, that has a blind writer, using a new Anglicised moniker, recollecting the story of his lost love killed in a car accident to the son of his friend and former colleague. In retelling the story he recalls the last movie he ever made as a director and the sheer tragedy of the situation leading up to the end of his lover’s life takes hold. The twists in the story and the ending are so overtly over the top but Almodóvar doesn’t care investing so much raw emotion into the story and trust in his actors that they are capable of making this real that in the end it does just that. It appears real.
The convoluted elements to the plot projecting the film’s thriller-like thread forwards harks to the strengths of Hitchock’s work and Almodóvar employs music beautifully to create real tension within the film’s folds. But again, this is something that Almodóvar has always done well as he often fuels the fire of sex he creates with beautiful score-work, again by his regular collaborator, Alberto Iglesias.
What happens to one during an Almodóvar film is questionable but what can rarely be argued, at least about his last couple, is that one walks out of the cinema overwhelmed with a sense of joy that what he or she has just bore witness to is something made from a real sense of love for story, cinema and above all the human element of us all. It’s in a sense like coming out of your favourite grandma’s house having eaten a huge plateful of your favourite hearty food.
Broken Embraces is a fantastic film from a very good director. It features outstanding work from its cast – they’re all great; exceptional use of colour and a wonderful sense of composition; and that glorious use of music. What’s left to say other than to proclaim that even with the film’s final revelation not entirely unforeseeable, one cannot help but feel good knowing that they’ve seen a film by a filmmaker who not only loves his creative compatriots but his audiences in equal measure. Broken Embraces is a treat.