Thursday, February 11, 2010

Embracing Pedro

I've been mulling over Pedro Almodovar's Broken Embraces (2009) for about a week now. It's a film drunk on movies. It's as constructed of other movies as any Tarantino film, and like Tarantino--hell, MORE than Tarantino--Almodovar has internalized his sources and spit them out as his own inspiration. This movie is his 8-1/2 and his Peeping Tom all rolled into one and filtered through Bad Education. It has four basic narratives, including a film within a film remake of one of his own movies, all of them centered around a director whose memories of a life in film haunt him after his blindness. More to the point, though, it provides Penelope Cruz a role that embodies everything the director loves about actresses. She's his Audrey Hepburn, Claudia Cardinale, and Marilyn Monroe all rolled into one in this movie. The opening shot during the credits tells you everything: it watches Cruz as she prepares for a take. Like the Nouvelle Vague directors, Almodovar understands that movies were invented for gazing at beautiful women.

It's in its particulars, however, that the movie sings. There are two sex scenes that give lie to the notion that there are no new ways to film sex scenes. There is a shot of Lluís Homar and Cruz together on a beach that looks like an alien landscape that says almost everything about love and the photographic image, and there is a shot in which the fictional blind director frames his last kiss with his lover between his hands as it plays on a grainy video that might be my favorite shot in all of Almodovar's films. And the climax isn't a big reveal that ties up the film's mysteries--it leaves some danging loose ends, thankfully--but is rather the restoration of a murdered movie.

All of this is filtered through a kind of formal classicism that Almodovar has been drifting towards for a little more than a decade, though, like everything else, he's internalized it and converted it into his own cinematic anima. This film is a masterpiece when viewed through that lens: beautiful, enigmatic, complex, everything anyone could want from a movie. What I mostly take away from this movie is a desire to watch more movies. In this regard, it's a gift to me at a time when my need to watch movies has been at an ebb.

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