Pedro Almodóvar made his regular New York Film Festival pit stop Wednesday, bringing his new film-industry love quadrangle Broken Embraces to town ahead of its closing-night presentation this weekend. His star and longtime muse Penélope Cruz joined him for a press conference following yesterday’s screening, but at this festival — perhaps the most abjectly cinephilic in the world — Almodóvar proved himself once again as the one person who can outshine the planet’s biggest international sexpot.
And why not? Cruz would be the first to acknowledge that Almodóvar made her — or at least she made the acknowledgment yesterday. “I was almost a little girl when I met him,” she added in her first comments to the crowd. “I was 17. I was too young for the part he was [casting] then, for Kika. He told me he would write something for me in the future, and he did. We worked together for the first time in Live Flesh [in 1997]. And of course he has changed. I have changed. Our relationship has changed and is constantly changing. We’ve gone a through a lot of years together. I can’t compare what I have with Pedro to what I have working on another movie. I’m not not just there working; I’m going through another adventure, and I’m sharing it with somebody who has been present for the most important times of my life. I was a kid in Live Flesh.”
For his part, Almodóvar — who turned 60 last month — has grown undoubtedly more introspective since that first collaboration. Broken Embraces is the director’s most self-referential film in a career full of them: When we meet one-time filmmaker Mateo Blanco (Lluís Homar), he has changed his name to Harry Caine after an accident that claimed his lover’s life and left him blind. Mateo/Harry is confronted by a bundle of elements from his past that may or may not allow for the completion of his final film, which was butchered by a jealous producer whose lover Magdalena (Cruz) had moved on as the leading lady in both the film and Mateo’s life.
“The truth is I wanted to write a fantasy,” Almodóvar explained in the press conference. “To make a film about a director who, during the course of the film, lost one of his senses. And the crew, taking vengeance out on the guy, will then finish the film however they want. But then the film would then turn out to be a great success. That would really be a film about the vanity of directors. But in reality, the origin of this film came from somewhere else. This really comes from something much more simple and direct.”
To elaborate on those roots would probably be to give too much away, particularly because there are too many inspirations informing Broken Embraces. In detailing the nature of creation, the economy of secrets, the cynicism of the film business, and the messy collision of emotion and sensuality, it’s more than even a gifted craftsman like Almodóvar can shape. Story threads interweave clumsily or go nowhere at all, poisoning the melodrama with a discomfiting tidiness. Led by Cruz, whose secretary-turned-actress roils with ambition and lust, Embraces still glows in Almodóvar’s sincere tradition. It just doesn’t shine.
Which doesn’t not make it a must-see, particularly for the autobiographical quips that reveal increasingly more of Almodóvar as Embraces goes on. “I thought you said no sequels, remakes or biopics,” Mateo’s agent mentions when he contemplates writing a script about Arthur Miller’s abandoned son. I asked afterward if that was indeed Almodóvar’s own philosophy toward storytelling.
“Yes, that’s right,” he replied immediately. “I have to say that I have no interest in remakes, nor making sequels nor prequels nor heroic films nor anti-heroic films or superhero films. Everything else, though, is OK.”
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