offoffoff film



Site links
  • Contact us

    Get our newsletter:
    Search the site:

    Film section
  • Film main page
  • Film archive
  • Audio index
  • Film links

    Top 10 lists

  • Top 10 films of 2004
    (Andrea, David, Joshua, Leslie)
  • Top 10 films of 2003
    (Andrea, David, Joshua, Leslie)
  • Top 10 films of 2002
  • Top 10 films of 2001
  • Top 10 films of 2000
  • Top 10 films of 1999
  •  All of our top 10 lists, 1999 - 2004

    Current movies

  • Afterschool
  • Antichrist
  • Babies
  • Broken Embraces
  • Dare
  • District 9
  • The End of Poverty?
  • Fix
  • Food Beware
  • The Men Who Stare at Goats
  • Pirate Radio
  • Precious
  • Red Cliff
  • The September Issue


  • Brooklyn International Film Festival
  • Human Rights Watch Film Festival
  • New York Film Festival


    Complete archive

    Recent reviews:
  • (500) Days of Summer
  • Anita O'Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer
  • The Art of the Steal
  • The Beetle
  • Blessed is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh
  • Boy A
  • Brideshead Revisited
  • The Brothers Bloom
  • Burn After Reading
  • Cold Souls
  • The Duchess
  • Elegy
  • Enlighten Up! A Skeptic's Journey Into the World of Yoga
  • Five Minutes of Heaven
  • Flame and Citron
  • Frozen River
  • Happy-Go-Lucky
  • How to Lose Friends & Alienate People
  • The Human Condition
  • Hunger
  • Inglourious Basterds
  • King of Shadows
  • The Lemon Tree
  • Lorna's Silence
  • A Man Named Pearl
  • Man on Wire
  • Memorial Day
  • Mister Foe
  • Morning Light
  • My Führer
  • My One and Only
  • Paris
  • The Pervert's Guide to Cinema
  • Peter and Vandy
  • Police, Adjective
  • Pray the Devil Back to Hell
  • Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind
  • Rachel Getting Married
  • A Secret
  • Sleep Dealer
  • St. Trinian's
  • Thirst
  • Throw Down Your Heart
  • Valentino: The Last Emperor
  • What's the Matter with Kansas?
  • Wild Grass
  • Jay DiPietro


    Broken Embraces

    Blind alley

    In spite of ever-fabulous leading lady Penelope Cruz, Pedro Almodovar's self-referential movie "Broken Embraces" about a sightless filmmaker is his dullest work ever.


    Being Pedro Almodovar means you know how to make your leading lady seem glamorous even in your weakest work.

    Original title: Los abrazos rotos.
    Written and directed by: Pedro Almodóvar.
    Cast: Penélope Cruz, Lluís Homar, Blanca Portillo, José Luis Gómez, Rubén Ochandiano, Tamar Novas, Ángela Molina.
    Cinematography: Rodrigo Prieto.
    Edited by: José Salcedo.

    Related links: Official site
    New York Film Festival, 2009
    • Overview
    • Antichrist
    • The Art of the Steal
    • Broken Embraces
      • Police, Adjective
    • Precious
    • Wild Grass
    Is there any doubt that if Greta Garbo or Marilyn Monroe were in their prime today (and, oh yeah, fluent in Spanish) they would be starring in passionate Almodovar melodramas? In the case of "Broken Embraces," their part is played — of course! — by Penelope Cruz, and she is — of course! — fabulous to behold. It's too bad it isn't a fabulous-er movie.

    They say "write what you know," and Almodovar is supreme among male filmmakers in knowing women. But in this case, he has taken the axiom to its unfortunate conclusion, in that he's made "Broken Embraces" about himself. When a writer is out of ideas, he writes stories about writers; when a filmmaker is out of ideas, he makes movies about filmmakers.

    Broken Embraces  
    Main character Harry Caine may not be named "Almodovar," but he makes, almost line for line, Almodovar's movies. He was in the middle of a movie almost identical to "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" when something happened and he went blind. (Just what happened is the twist — not much of one — that's revealed at the end.)

    This idea — what happens to a movie maker who loses his sight — seems like a promising starting point, if it leads us in some profound direction. What does someone do when his life's passion is taken away? (Answer: nothing.) How does someone who has lived by his vision try to "see" when his eyes are gone? (Answer: he doesn't.) Our man Harry doesn't even do us the kindness of visibly moping — he just stagnates. He does a little pointless writing and waits around the house for his still-attentive ex-wife and son to come take care of his few needs. Interesting!

      When a writer is out of ideas, he writes stories about writers; when a filmmaker is out of ideas, he makes movies about filmmakers.
    We flash back to the making of his great but ill-fated film project, "Girls and Suitcases," financed by jealous rich-guy Ernesto and starring his moll, Lena (played by Cruz). Harry and Lena inevitably dally, Ernesto obsesses, and disasters start to plague the production. After Harry's accident, the movie is finally assembled and released without him. Others apparently have turned it into a creative travesty, and the shame of Harry's life.

    Broken Embraces  
    Harry is such a drab character — whether now or in his heyday — that it is hard to believe in his passion, whether for his film or for Lena. Thus, it is hard to believe in "Broken Embraces" as a story. But what about in a more meta sense? Is it supposed to be a cry of the heart from Almodovar personally?

    If so, then it isn't a cry — it's a whine. The idea that Almodovar has been wronged or stifled in some way is absurd. He has made very much his own movies, some of them quite great, to worldwide acclaim. Are we to feel sorry for him now? Is the more-or-less flawless "Women on the Verge" somehow Exhibit A for how the world has sabotaged poor Pedro's masterpieces?

      Our man Harry doesn't even do us the kindness of visibly moping — he just stagnates.
    "Broken Embraces" should have been titled "All About Me." If it is a movie about how Almodovar feels about himself, then it is unjustifiably self-pitying. If it is simply a piece of fiction, then it's the kind of story you write when you can't think of anything to write. It is unsympathetic, and possibly Almodovar's dullest work ever.

    NOVEMBER 20, 2009

    Reader comments on Broken Embraces:

  • [no subject]   from Nicolaas Marcos van Zeijl, Nov 27, 2011
  • Sad but creative   from Billy, Sep 26, 2012

  • Post a comment on "Broken Embraces"