Saturday, February 06, 2010

FILM: Los Abrazos Rotos

In his latest film Los Abrazos Rotos, director Pedro Almodóvar at times channels Alfred Hitchcock, and at other times, Luis Buñuel. The opening scene, a macro close-up on a single eye, is an explicit homage to Un Chien Andalou, and a tantalizing tip to film theorists that Almodóvar is going to artfully play with the theme of seeing and film. The main character is a famous film director who has lost his sight, as well as the love of his life, in a car accident. And one of the most stunningly beautiful visual scenes in this film is of the blind man "reading" the pixels in a grainy video of his last film as if it were braille. Layers of seeing and watching and filming are fascinatingly woven in this strange tale about a film being made, and the filming of the filming, part of which includes the secret surveillance by a jealous husband of his aspiring actress wife, which leads to the Hitchcock elements. While full of arty references that film theory students will eat up, this is no plotless Brakhage or Warhol film. There is an intriguing film noir plot of an affair abruptly ended by a suspicious death that may have been a murder, and there are some great Hitchcockian car scenes, suspenseful without any actual chase, just a creepy feeling of being watched. The plot lies buried in the blind man's past, and Almodovar lets it gently and mysteriously unfold, as we get to know his characters, all brilliantly cast: Lluís Homar as the haunted blind director Mateo Blanco (who forsook his name when he lost his sight and his love); Blanca Portillo as Judit García, his editor/manager and unrequited lover; Penélope Cruz as Lena, his passionate lover and not-very-talented star of his last film. The film within the film (and the filming of the film within the film) is used to great effect, without becoming too gimmicky. At times, the line between the inner film and reality blurs. There is a great scene when Lena's jealous husband is watching a soundless videotape of his wife making the film, as a hired lip-reader tells him what people are saying; then as Lena addresses the camera directly, the real Lena enters the room behind him and speaks the lines that her on-screen picture is enunciating. While the film was a bit slow to get going, I was thoroughly drawn in by the end with these intriguing characters, the mysterious story threads tying them all together, and the artful filmmaking.

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