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Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Pedro Almodovar delivers great cinema in Broken Embraces (2009), as always. Like his other films, there is a special place for the ladies - in this case his favourite Penelope Cruz - and there is a place for metanarrative. This time, however, Almodovar's theme is memory and regret.

The story is a pure love story. Cruz plays Lena, a corporate secretary who sleeps with the boss - construction czar Ernesto Martel. But she wants more, and finds it in the arms of film director Mateo Blanco. The love affair discovered, Martel exacts the maximum revenge he is capable of. After Lena recovers from the fall down-stairs, she escapes into the countryside in a car with Mateo.

Martel's revenge then takes the form of sabotage of the film Mateo and Lena have been working on. He also dispatches his son to the resort district the two lovers found solitude in. The boy has filmed the entire production, and now he films Lena's accidental death. Mateo survives but is permanently blind as a result of the car crash.

The film opens with Mateo - who now calls himself Harry Caine, his erstwhile nom de plume - being read to by an attractive girl he has met on the street. Martel, he learns, has just died. The same day, Martel's son appears at Harry's door wanting to hire him to write an autobiographical screenplay - following his accident, the director has turned to writing to earn a living.

Judit Garcia, Harry's agent, arrives to tidy up after Harry's impromptu tryst with the pretty girl from the street. Judit's son, Diego, also arrives. He serves as a factotum and, when Ray X - Martel's son has adopted a pseudonym - returns, he throws him out of Harry's flat. He also helps to reconstruct a bag of torn photos that date from the resort refuge.

Diego is the catalyst which allows Harry to face up to his past - his dead lover, Lena, the dead tormentor, Martel - and seek out Martel's son, who has never abandoned the documentary he was making even as Lena was crushed to death by a speeding black four-wheel-drive.

Diego's mother, Judit, also comes clean. She tells Harry about her betrayal of his vision. She had allowed Martel to destroy the film by making use of the worst cuts available in the tin. But now she reveals more. She tells Harry that she still possesses the entire shooting product. Diego, Harry and Judit sit down to reconstruct the film - Girls and Suitcases - from scratch. This time they use quality takes. Lena returns to life, Harry is reborn - and there's another secret too, which will remain undisclosed.

Life in retrospect is messy. Anyone's life contains unexpected and regrettable episodes. Almodovar seems to be telling us how we can reconstruct a credible story from fragments of lived experience. He seems to be telling us how that story can justify our current existence, even though it requires an effort. He offers some sort of redemption through art, through the assemblage of images and words, through the art practice as an essential element of any person's life.

Blind, alone, and lonely, Harry/Mateo rediscovers his true place within the perplexing patterns of his past. A very beautiful film.

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