LET'S SAY Pedro Almodóvar is one of your favorite directors. Oh wait, he is? Well, what a coincidence! You'll have plenty of company in Broken Embraces' fan club, as the film is an elaborate, self-indulgent orgy of Almodóvar-age—full of self-reference, slavish homage to fantasy-noir melodrama, and arresting images of Penélope Cruz. On its own, the film is an exceptionally attractive and not unpleasantly meandering tale of sex, malice, and filmmaking—but few pains are taken to make the audience feel welcome in this clearly introspective, doubtlessly sincere work of art.
The winding plot concerns a blind film director, Harry Caine (Lluís Homar), who—ever since the car accident that took his sight—has suffered something of a career lull. His earlier days are recalled when an upstart calling himself "Ray X" (Rubén Ochandiano) materializes with a film project, and Caine learns that the former producer of one of his films, Ernesto Martel (José Luis Gómez), has died. But Broken Embraces' heart resides in Caine's recollection of his doomed former lover, Lena (Penélope Cruz). Cruz's depiction of a former secretary and call girl turned gilded-caged mistress and wannabe actress is of that of someone who's hard to know, which (whether intentionally or not) is in many ways appropriate. Regardless, the sylphlike star's presence significantly elevates the film's interest factor.
Lollygag as it may, Broken is never boring—there's too much handsomeness to take in, and a steadily deepening sense of danger. But the film's idle pace and rarefied situations are standoffish. Almodóvar seems to have made something of a memoir with this film, but his perspective here is perhaps one that can only be understood through familiarity.