Penelope Cruz in 'Broken Embraces'Fans of Pedro Almodovar's films know to expect the unexpected, or at least the playfully unorthodox. With his complex, multi-narrative plots peopled with eccentric characters, and a willingness to embrace sexuality in all its earthy glory, Almódovar has proven to be a fearless filmmaker. Since he began directing features in the late 1970s, his colorful, often comic melodramas have gotten deeper, more emotionally resonant, with 'All About My Mother' (1999), 'Talk to Her' (2002) and 'Volver' (2006) considered by many to be his greatest works.

With 'Broken Embraces,' his fourth movie starring main muse Penélope Cruz, Almodóvar has made a typically vibrant film centering around Cruz's character, an industrialist's mistress who pursues acting and falls in love with her director. (That's an extreme plot oversimplification.) Featuring flashbacks, flash-forwards, myriad movie references, actors playing double roles and a film within a film, it may be Almodóvar's most complex movie yet. Reviews have been generally positive, but several critics cite more style than substance, especially compared to the director's last several outings. Nearly all reviews, however, mention how downright enjoyable it all is, despite what some see as a relative lack of depth. Penelope Cruz in 'Broken Embraces'Fans of Pedro Almodovar's films know to expect the unexpected, or at least the playfully unorthodox. With his complex, multi-narrative plots peopled with eccentric characters, and a willingness to embrace sexuality in all its earthy glory, Almódovar has proven to be a fearless filmmaker. Since he began directing features in the late 1970s, his colorful, often comic melodramas have gotten deeper, more emotionally resonant, with 'All About My Mother' (1999), 'Talk to Her' (2002) and 'Volver' (2006) considered by many to be his greatest works.

With 'Broken Embraces,' his fourth movie starring main muse Penélope Cruz, Almodóvar has made a typically vibrant film centering around Cruz's character, an industrialist's mistress who pursues acting and falls in love with her director. (That's an extreme plot oversimplification.) Featuring flashbacks, flash-forwards, myriad movie references, actors playing double roles and a film within a film, it may be Almodóvar's most complex movie yet. Reviews have been generally positive, but several critics cite more style than substance, especially compared to the director's last several outings. Nearly all reviews, however, mention how downright enjoyable it all is, despite what some see as a relative lack of depth.

The Hollywood Reporter: "While the movie as a whole is thoroughly engrossing and all the movie references and subplots involving the cinema world undoubtedly enrich his story, this is a pretty minor film from the filmmaker. It feels like more of an exercise in plotting and movie nostalgia than a story about real people."

Guardian: "Pundits have complained that 'Broken Embraces' just retreads the director's old ideas; I see it more as variations on a theme – familiar, but still engrossing. If the "mature" period of Almodóvar's career is levelling out, it is still producing intensely intelligent and watchable films, although observers are entitled to notice that Almodóvar is keen to stress the sexual attractiveness and prowess of older men. 'Broken Embraces' is a film in which the director demonstrates a continuing, virtuoso fluency in a cinematic language that he himself invented. It's an embrace I want to submit to."

The New Yorker: The multiple narratives thicken, but you can feel the blood of the movie starting to thin, and what may have been intended as a pulsing reanimation of 'Vertigo'-Harry's concluding task is to remold his desires into a finished work of art, and Alberto Iglesias's music is in deep and breathless pursuit of Bernard Herrmann-seems a touch too long, too airless, and too content with its own contrivances to stir the heart. Almodóvar is like his heroine, armed with a tripod. He is a Tom who peeps and gazes but finally fails to strike home.

Entertainment Weekly: "A vibrant, mature love letter to the making of movies, the meaning of movies, and the dark-eyed muse Penélope Cruz, Pedro Almodóvar's 'Broken Embraces' doesn't so much break new ground in the filmmaker's instantly recognizable terrain as deepen an Almodóvarian's understanding of how this uniquely stylish Spanish artist sees the world. And as every frame of this chic and playful comedy/melodrama attests, he sees the world - of personal relationships and creative collaboration, of natural landscape and man-made decor - through a cinephile's magnifying lens."

Variety: "Partly a film about films and partly a film about love, Pedro Almodovar's 'Broken Embraces' can't quite decide where its allegiances lie. A restless, rangy and frankly enjoyable genre-juggler that combines melodrama, comedy and more noir-hued darkness than ever before, the pic is held together by the extraordinary force of Almodóvar's cinematic personality. But while its four-way in extremis love story dazzles, it never really catches fire."

Time Out New York: "Movies as sexy and colorful as 'Broken Embraces' really shouldn't feel this boring. But that's the troubling thing that's happened with the work of Pedro Almodóvar, whose catty, chatty melodramas now play like dutiful festival mainstays rather than truly vibrant alternatives. The Spanish director is too assured not to serve up a spicy meal-and his longtime leading lady, Penélope Cruz, is riding a fascinating crest of post-'Vicky Cristina Barcelona' complexity. But watching the new film is like getting upsettingly full on insubstantial tapas: You would never say no to just one more, but there's better."

Associated Press: "An Almodovar film is unlike anything else: bold, passionate, explosively bright, campy, self-serious, formally constructed. There's not another filmmaker working today (or perhaps ever) who believes so strongly in the extremes of melodrama.The overcooked drama can grow tiresome, but resistance is typically as futile as trying to fully describe one of Almodovar plots. In his finest films -- 'Bad Education,' 'Talk to Her' -- the lushness sucks you in and slyly leads you somewhere darker. 'Broken Embraces' weaves Almodovar's spell just as assuredly as those films (thanks partially to the beautiful camera work of Rodrigo Prieto and the sensuous score by Alberto Iglesias), but the payoff is less. It comes a little too tidily and with a little too much self-reference."

Village Voice: "This is the shaggiest of Almodóvar's movies, the most enamored of storytelling for its own sake, since 1984's enjoyably baffling 'What Have I Done to Deserve This?' Many critics have responded negatively after festival screenings, docking the erstwhile master of candy-colored mise-en-scène for leaning too heavily on dialogue-but Almodóvar's talk-to-me approach here seems perfectly suited to his protagonist's loss of vision, if not to his own.
CATEGORIES Reviews