March 10, 2010 -- Pedro Almodóvar may be the director with the strongest brand in the business. His movies have a very distinct look, a colorful golden glow. “Los abrazos rotos” is a typical Almodóvar film (also written by him) in that some of the characters are damaged, some are dead and some are gay, and everything looks interesting, especially the lovely Penélope Cruz. The story is complex with a jumbled timeline and a number of different story threads that all fit together at the end.
The central character is a womanizing former movie director, Mateo Blanco (who now goes by the pseudonym Harry Caine, played by Lluís Homar). He is now a blind script writer who has a dark past. His longtime agent, Judit García (played by Blanca Portillo) is the only one who knows his secret until Harry Caine decides to open up to Judit's son, Diego (Tamar Novas), who helps Harry with typing and other chores.
Harry begins telling Diego the complex story of how he became blind and how he lost the love of his life in a car accident years ago. Harry met Lena (Cruz) at an audition. Lena had always wanted to be an actress, but had fallen into prostitution at one point. She later became mistress to a wealthy man Ernesto Martel (José Luis Gómez) but never gave up on her acting career. Harry, like Ernesto, fell in love with Lena and cast her in a movie. Ernesto became jealous and had his son (Rubén Ochandiano) follow Lena around with a video camera. He would watch the film with a lip-reading specialist who would translate what Lena and Harry were saying when they were out of the camera's audio range. Ernesto's suspicions that Lena was having an affair with Harry were well founded. Eventually, the situation became untenable because Ernesto was also the producer of Harry's movie.
The exact circumstances of the tragic accident are muddled in the story. There is never a clear resolution. The death of Ernesto years after the accident is what stirs up this old story. Harry begins going by his old name, Mateo, again, and he begins talking about his past. It turns out that Judit also has some secrets that she never told Harry. I told you this was complicated, but it all works well enough. The broken field running of the film's timeline requires each viewer to reassemble the story in his head. It is all about people coming to terms with the past and moving on. There is some nudity in the film and some very steamy sex scenes. The beautiful visual quality of the film is something viewers have come to expect from Almodóvar. Cruz turns in a great performance, perhaps her best ever. The rest of the cast is solid. This film rates a B.
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