By Matt Brunson
DIRECTED BY Pedro Almodovar
STARS Penelope Cruz, Lluis Homar
The muse is upon Pedro Almodovar specifically, favorite leading lady Penelope Cruz, who has inspired the Oscar-winning auteur to cast her for the fourth time in a feature film. Here, she's seen in the flashbacks of blind screenwriter Harry Caine (Lluis Homar), who reflects on his affair with the mistress of a powerful businessman (Jose Luis Gomez) and the series of events that first brought them together and then kept them apart.
A near-miss for Almodovar, Broken Embraces includes just about everything we have come to expect (take for granted?) from the accomplished writer-director: a gallery of memorable characters, snappy dialogue that's a treat to hear (or, for most American audiences, a treat to read via subtitles), slick visual compositions with special attention to lighting and color, and familiar themes involving dual identities and the shifting roles people are forced to play as they navigate their messy lives. But the end result is less than the sum of its parts, a smoke 'n' mirrors melodrama that peters out just when it should be revving into high gear.
Ultimately, this noirish throwback feels like a murder-mystery without the murder, a whodunnit without the who (let alone the why). Its surface pleasures are plentiful, but those hoping to dig deep will be left wanting.