I'm never sure quite what to make of Pedro Almodovar's films. Over his 30+ film career, his movies have become increasingly lush and cinematic, bursting with colour and verve, but thematically I'm finding his more recent work a little flat. There's an age-old film making adage that goes; “When film makers start making films about film makers, you begin to worry that they've run out of inspiration.” That isn't to say that his latest film Broken Embraces (in part, a film about film making by the way) doesn't engage, because to does. Almodovar's muse, the ravishing Penélope Cruz has never been better. As an actress, no one working in film today is her match. She simply owns the screen. The camera loves this woman and so do I.
Broken Embraces is a twisty Douglas Sirkian melodrama that's a bit too long and contains just a few too many clichés for it's own good. Other than that, it's an easy recommendation for fans of his previous works. I still consider Talk to Her (2002) his best picture to date, partly because it's a film that doesn't have this fan-base prerequisite. The same could be said of his excellent All About My Mother (1999), making these two films amongst the best back-to-back works by a director in recent, but fading memory. Since then, it's beginning to feel as though Pedro's been treading water. We've had Bad Education, Volver and now Broken Embraces - all films that are exquisite to look at, modestly engaging, but seem to have been directed on autopilot.
That said, as a visual film maker Almodovar is amongst the best ever. His technique and technical proficiency is nearly flawless and getting better. The opening scene of Broken Embraces, an eye in extreme close up with a man and a newspaper reflecting off its black pupil, is simply stunning. The camera glides around and moves in ways that make you feel like it's you looking around, creating an intimacy and sense of depth that mimics (and perhaps even surpasses) that of the 3-D technical gimmickry being trotted out as groundbreaking stuff these days. It's just a little disappointing that the plot doesn't quite measure up.