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Vol. LXIV, No. 1
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Wednesday, January 6, 2010
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For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION!: Lena (Penelope Cruz) has succeeded in landing the leading role in a movie that is being produced by her lover Ernesto (not shown). However, in order to land the role she seduced the director. When Ernesto finds out, all hell breaks loose. See the movie to find out how it all turns out.

Broken Embraces: Penelope Cruz Pleases in Another Almodovar Soap Opera

Kam Williams

After winning an Oscar in 2009 for her role in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Penelope Cruz is back with what might be an even better performance in Broken Embraces, a Spanish soap opera that revolves around a love quadrangle. The movie is her fourth collaboration with director Pedro Almodovar, who previously featured her in Live Flesh, All About My Mother, and Volver.

In Broken Embraces, Cruz plays Lena, an aspiring actress who sells her soul twice. Her first deal with the devil comes in 1992, when she is working as a secretary for the elderly Ernesto Martel (Jose Luis Gomez), a multi-millionaire businessman. She starts an affair with him in order to get him to pay for her dying father’s medical expenses.

After a couple years, when Lena tires of the affair, she decides to pursue her dream of becoming a movie star. So, she asks Ernesto for permission to audition for a role in Chica y Maletas, a picture that he’s producing. The film is reminiscent of Almodovar’s movie Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.

Despite not being a very good actress, Lena nonetheless lands the lead by shamelessly seducing Mateo (Lluis Homar), the film’s director, who is considerably older than her. However, their affair catches the attention of Ernesto who, understandably jealous, has his heir Ernesto Jr. (Ruben Ochandiano) monitor their movements with a video camera. Equally miffed is Mateo’s agent Judit, (Blanca Portillo), who has had a son (Tamar Novas) with Mateo and still has strong feelings for her former lover.

All of the above unfolds in Broken Embraces, a tale told via flashbacks from the perspective of a blind and broken Mateo who in the present, only answers to the name Harry Caine. Curiously, he’s not the only character employing a pseudonym — Ernesto Jr. goes by the name Ray X. The reasons for their pseudonyms become clear as the story develops.

As the plot thickens, Broken Embraces proves to be an appropriate title, both literally and figuratively. Ernesto becomes enraged when his son’s surveillance tapes show that Lena is indeed cheating on him. In a fit of jealous rage he shoves her down a flight of stairs, which results in her breaking an ankle and disfiguring her face, and also disrupts the production schedule of Chica y Maletas.

The antagonistic antics continue to escalate, and by the time the dust finally settles, the physically and emotionally scarred survivors can do little more than wistfully reminisce about what might have been.

Excellent (4 stars). Rated R for profanity, sexuality, and drug use. In Spanish and English with subtitles. Running time: 127 Minutes. Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics.

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

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