Broken Embraces  

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Los Abrazos Rotos (aka Broken Embraces) is a 2009 Spanish film by Pedro Almodóvar set in the 1990s and present day. The film centers on a four-way tale of dangerous love, and was shot in the style of a hard-boiled 1950s American film noir. Its soundtrack features acclaimed artists such as Cat Power, Uffie, Vitamin C, etc.

The film was accepted into the main selection at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival in competition for the prestigious Palme d'or, his third film to do so and fourth to screen at the festival.


A man (Lluís Omar) writes, lives and loves in the darkness. He was the victim of a brutal car accident fourteen years ago in Lanzarote. Not only did he lose his sight, but also the woman of his life, Lena (Penélope Cruz).


"Harry Caine" (Lluís Homar) is a blind writer who shares his life with his agent Judit (Blanca Portillo) and her adult son Diego (Tamar Novas). Slowly, events in the present begin to bring back memories of the past. Harry hears that millionaire Ernesto Martel (José Luis Gómez) has died; a young film-maker, Ray X, appears and turns out to be Martel's son, Ernesto Jr. (Rubén Ochandiano). After Diego is hospitalized for an accidental drug overdose in a Madrid nightclub, Harry collects Diego from the hospital and looks after him to avoid worrying his traveling mother. The main storyline is told in flashback as Harry reluctantly tells Diego a tragic tale of fate, jealousy, abuse of power, betrayal and guilt.

The first flashback is to 1992, when we meet Magdalena ("Lena") Rivas (Penelope Cruz), Ernesto Martel's beautiful young secretary, an aspiring actress and a part-time call girl. Though disgusted by him, she becomes sexually involved with Martel, a millionaire financier, in order to make money to help meet her dying father's medical bills. By 1994, she has become Martel's mistress. At this time, Harry is still living under his real name, Mateo Blanco, a well respected film director.

Martel is incredibly jealous of Lena, but she is determined to become an actress and manages to win the main role in Blanco's film Chicas y maletas by bringing Martel in as financier / producer. Audiences familiar with Almodovar's work will recognize that the fictional film is similar to Almodóvar's 1988 release Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, except that the Shiite terrorists have been replaced by a cocaine dealer; several of the cast of the previous film appear in the fictional one. Martel spies on Lena and Mateo by sending his inhibited, obsessive gay son, Ernesto Jr., to videotape the production of the film, ostensibly for a "making of" feature, then hiring a lip-reader (Lola Dueñas) to interpret conversations on set. Martel, seething with jealousy, screens the videos in his opulent den as the lip reader narrates the furtive whispers of Lena and Mateo's passionate affair.

Furious, Martel confronts Lena, and when she threatens to leave him, pushes her down the stairs. But when she survives the fall he relents and nurses her back to health. The filming completed, Lena and Blanco escape Martel's hold and go on holiday to Lanzarote. When they read in El Pais that Chicas y maletas has received a terrible critical reception, likely the end of Blanco's directing career, they determine to start over together far from Madrid. Blanco takes the name of Harry Caine. Lena, realizing that her acting career is over, takes work as a receptionist in a tourist hotel. Fate intervenes when Blanco is seriously injured and Lena is killed in a car accident, which ironically is immortalized by Ernesto Jr. who has been trailing them with his camcorder. Mateo loses his sight permanently. Judit, a crew member on the film, and an 8-year-old Diego arrive to help Blanco pick up the pieces and return to Madrid, where he eventually writes screenplays in braille under the pseudonym Harry Caine, represented by his agent, Judit.

The story picks up where it began in 2008. Judit reveals to Diego that Harry is Diego's father. Later, stricken with guilt and drunk on gin, Judit confesses to Harry/Mateo that she had sold out to Martel back in 1994, and of her involvement in providing Martel the phone number of the hotel in Lanzarote where Lena and Mateo were hiding. She also confirms that Martel sabotaged the release of Chicas y maletas by using the worst takes from each scene in order to destroy Mateo's reputation. Harry, having exorcised some demons, decides to return to his life as Mateo Blanco. Though believed lost, the original reels of Chicas y maletas and Ernesto Jr.'s camcorder footage are recovered - Judit had ignored Martel's order to destroy them and instead hid them away. Mateo and Diego re-edit the film for its long-delayed release as the director envisioned it. Broken Embraces ends with Diego watching, and describing to Mateo, Lena and Mateo's final kiss captured on Ernesto Jr.'s grainy video stock.


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