Broken Embraces has, by all accounts, all the ingredients that have made the recent string of Almodóvar movies great: women and men on the verge of a nervous break-down, passion, drama, death and Penélope Cruz. This time around, 'though, the mix doesn't ignite: the movie ends up making for a boring two hours.
The plot involves Mateo (Lluís Homar), a blind script writer and former movie director who reveals to his young collaborator the story of how, some 14 years ago, he was involved in a passionate love affair with Lena (Penélope Cruz), the actress in his last movie and also the girl friend of the rich old tycoon producing the movie. The love story turns into drama when the tycoon finds out about their affair, leading eventually to a death and to the loss of Mateo's eye sight.
Along the way, Almodóvar offers us a string of cinematic gimmicks such as movies-in-movies and, in Lena, countless references to classic divas and film roles, from Audrey Hepburn to Kim Novak. The styling is perfect as ever, and Penélope Cruz a joy to watch. There are also the type of surreal scenes that Almodóvar excels in, such as when a lip reader reads back to the tycoon the none-too-flattering remarks about him spoken by Lena on a surveillance tape.
Where the movie goes wrong, 'though, is in the plotting. Too much time is wasted in unimportant details in the present-tense story line, leaving too little room for the supposedly passionate love story in the flashback scenes. The illicit affair is jumped into with hardly any build-up; and apart from two or three scenes where we see the couple involved in passionate kissing, the passion is mostly talked about (and talked about and talked about) or happens offstage, behind closed doors.
Broken Embraces thus never lives up to its potential, ending up as a movie that talks about passion but fails to deliver it. The most disappointing of Almodóvar's movies since High Heels.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5.