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‘Embraces’ is Complicated, Inconsistent and Fun

A Pedro Almodovar movie is not the easiest thing to follow.

Throughout his 30-year career, the cult director has dealt with topics that range from a mother coming back from the dead ("Volver") to transgender romances ("Bad Education"), all spoken in Spanish. From Spain, where they say vos instead of tu and have their own variety of slang.

And Almodovar's latest multilayered drama, "Broken Embraces," is just as confusing as ever.

It's a romance that jumps between now and 1993 without much consistency. The characters go by different names — one minute the protagonist's name is Harry Caine, the next it's Mateo Blanco. And if you're distracted by the beautifully decorated apartments, even for just one second, it's highly possible you'll get lost in the maze of a story.

But as any Almodovar fan will tell you, those are the things that make his movies so much fun. Because these complicated journeys are also filled with jealous lovers, mysterious Spanish women and a good amount of zaniness.

This time around, the story is about a director, Mateo (Lluis Homar), who falls in love with his film's leading lady, Lena (Penelope Cruz). Unfortunately, Lena (who sometimes goes by her character name, Pina) is living with a very old, very jealous and very wealthy lover, Ernesto.

In order to keep up with what she's up to, Ernesto finances Mateo's movie. Ernesto then hires his creepy son to make a "making of" documentary, which Ernesto then watches to make sure Lena's not cheating on him. That's the 1993 part.

See, complicated already.

It also deals with modern-day Mateo, who is now blind and goes by the name Harry. Harry is taken care of by his longtime business partner, Judit (Blanca Portillo), and her son, Diego (Tamar Novas). They're all hiding secrets from each other — like what Diego does at night and why Judit hated Lena and Mateo's romance all those years ago.

And it's when the characters finally reveal their truths to each other that you'll find much of the film's heart.

Before that happens, the characters, while beautiful to look at, are kept at a distance. This isn't the highly emotional ride Almodovar gave us in "All About My Mother." Instead, "Broken Embraces" is unabashedly film noir, with bold women and long-standing feuds, but no real human attachment.

Even Cruz, who is charming and lovely as the inexperienced actress Lena, doesn't move you to tears, even when she's meant to when she truly finds her happiness.

Still, the film has a good bit of humor in it, especially for longtime Almodovar fans.

The comedy Mateo is directing is called "Girls and Suitcases," which is a fun retelling of Almodovar's 1988 over-the-top comedy "Women on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown."

But between the fake movie and the clips of old Hollywood films woven throughout the plot, there's a bit too much happening in "Broken Embraces" to get beneath the surface.

Even so, it's an adventure that's worthwhile and thought-provoking if you're willing to follow along.

"Broken Embraces." Rated: R. Running time: 2 hours, 8 minutes. 3.5 stars.

To find out more about Nina Garin and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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