“Broken Embraces,” the latest film from Spain’s master director Pedro Almodovar, creates a dazzling pastiche of love, death, and melodrama that often feels dream-like. The Martha’s Vineyard Film Society presents it Saturday, May 8 at the Katharine Cornell Theatre.
Mr. Almodovar spotlights Penelope Cruz, who won an Oscar for her work in Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” in a convoluted and haunting story about the ways passion blinds the people it possesses.
But “Broken Embraces” doesn’t start with Ms. Cruz’s character, Lena. The story begins at the apartment of filmmaker Mateo Blanco (Lluis Homar), whose life becomes the film’s framing device. After Mateo was blinded in an auto accident, he adopted the pseudonym of Harry Caine, and his disability became a way to seduce attractive young women, one of whom is reading the newspaper to him. One after another, the other central characters – except Lena – arrive at Mateo/Harry’s apartment.
Judit (Blanca Portilla), Mateo’s agent and former production aide, shows up first. She is devoted to her boss and seems to have an unrequited passion for him.
Next comes her son, Diego (Tamar Novas), who works as a DJ and helps his mother take care of Mateo. Later, Ray X (Ruben Ochandiano) shows up. He’s an aspiring filmmaker with a secret identity, who wants to collaborate with Mateo and appears to have anger management issues.
Expert storyteller that he is, Mr. Almodovar juggles this complicated cast of characters with ease. Like moths, they hover in the light cast by beautiful Lena.
Flashbacks and missing pieces of information keep the audience guessing about what will happen.
Lena enters the story as secretary to industrial magnate Ernesto Martel (Jose Luis Gomez). Her father is dying of stomach cancer, so she moonlights as a prostitute to help pay the bills until her boss steps in to help. Eventually she becomes Mr. Martel’s mistress, but she has always wanted to be an actress.
Once she responds to a casting call for Mateo’s latest film, “Girls and Suitcases,” sparks fly between the two. Mr. Martel agrees to finance the new film but becomes increasingly jealous.
He assigns his son, Ernesto Jr., to shoot a documentary about “Girls and Suitcases.” When Ernesto Sr.’s jealousy turns violent, Lena and Mateo escape to exotic Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands, for a briefly blissful interlude before tragedy strikes.
Echoes of Hitchcock, in particular his masterpiece “Vertigo,” reverberate through “Broken Embraces.” Obsession, blindness, and cameras become motifs. Whether in the repetition of names, the film-within-a-film theme, or the parent-child relationships, doubling plays an important role.
The mise-en-scene, the film’s artful design, is saturated with the color red. The camera setups, use of close-ups, and the editing all work to dazzling effect — even the homage to Mr. Almodovar’s breakthrough comedy, “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” in the film-within-a-film.
What does this elaborate, overwrought story add up to? In the end, not much that we haven’t already heard about in tales of love gone astray. It’s Mr. Almodovar’s tour-de-force filmmaking that sets apart what critic A.O. Scott has aptly called a “film noir potboiler.”
“Broken Embraces,” Saturday, May 8, 7:30 pm, Katharine Cornell Theatre, Vineyard Haven. $8; $5 for MVFS members. Doors open at 7 pm. For more information, visit mvfilmsociety.com.
Brooks Robards, who divides her time between Oak Bluffs and Northampton, is a regular contributor to The Times.