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Cannes 2009: Broken Embraces

Pedro Almodovar has made a solid if unspectacular return to Cannes with Broken Embraces.

It’s the Spanish auteur’s longest, priciest movie to date – yet it’s hard to shake the sense that you’ve seen a lot of it before.

Soaked in self-reference, there’s nonetheless much to distract in this layer cake of noir, melodrama, comedy, time-shifts and identity-switches.

The ostensible protagonist is moviemaker Harry Caine (Lluis Homar), who turned from directing to scripting after losing his sight in a car crash 14 years ago.

He’s second fiddle, though, to a pulse-quickening, post-Oscar Penelope Cruz, as a fatal femme juggling lovers and guises (she gets through more wigs that Wogan).

Much of the story unfurls in flashback, wending its way to a reveal unlikely to leave many jaws carpeting the floor. As well as surprise, there’s a lack of real heart – a step backwards after the emotional depths mined by Almodovar’s Volver.

This is more like Bad Education with bigger laughs – especially in the film-within-a-film that pads out the final act.

Like the movie as a whole, it’s a self-indulgence you’re willing to take thanks to a director confident in his game if not at the top of it.