Almodovar’s Broken Embraces
Combining noir, naturalism, melodrama, and comedy, Pedro Almodóvar’s Broken Embraces is the work of a true cinephile. “This is Pedro’s ode to filmmaking and cinema,” says its director of photography, Rodrigo Prieto, ASC, AMC.
The production itself was a cinematic Chinese box. Inside the film, there’s a film within a film, plus a “making of” video, each shot on a different format: 35mm anamorphic, 35mm spherical, and 16mm respectively. As it leaps between past and present, real life and the silver screen, Broken Embraces’s look also skips across a range of genre-specific styles.
The story begins with the pseudonymous Harry Caine (Lluís Homar), a former film director who was blinded 14 years earlier in a car crash, which also killed his married lover, Lena (Penélope Cruz). The two began their affair after Caine cast the aspiring actress in his comedy Girls and Suitcases. Lena was in a coerced marriage with industrialist Ernesto Martel, her former boss. In a desperate attempt to keep his wife close, the jealous husband offers to produce Girls and Suitcases. Moreover, he orders his son, Ernest Jr. (Rubén Ochandiano), to shoot a “making of” video, which allows him to spy on Lena and the director. When Lena tells Martel she’s leaving, he pushes her down the stairs in a fit of rage. After production wraps, she and the director flee to a bungalow in the Canary Islands. Martel attempts to flush them out by editing Girls and Suitcases with the worst possible takes and releasing it to scathing reviews. But the lovers’ interlude ends in the fatal car crash, captured on tape by Ernesto Junior. All this is recounted by Harry Caine to Diego (Tamar Novas), his assistant and son of his producer, Judit (Blanca Portillo), with whom he’d had an affair years earlier. Once the truth is out, more revelations follow. The director, reenergized, gets back to work on Girls and Suitcases, recutting the negative that Judit had kept hidden, saying, “Films have to be finished, even if you do it blindly.”
Spain’s preeminent director turned to Rodrigo Prieto for their first collaboration not only because of the cinematographer’s impressive reel, which includes standout work with Alejandro González Iñárritu (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel, Biutiful), Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain; Lust, Caution), and Oliver Stone (Alexander, Wall Street 2). It was also Prieto’s finesse with darkness and his fearlessness with colors that caught the director’s eye. “His understanding of color is very cultural,” Almodóvar says of the Mexican-born cinematographer. “I don’t have to explain to him, because he already carries it inside. If Spain is Baroque in its colors, Mexico is even more so. Even though this film is quite somber in some ways, I still asked for colors that are much brighter than those I see in film in general. Having seen Frida, I knew he would understand.” In addition, Almodóvar was impressed with Prieto’s handling of darkness in 8 Mile, “especially the establishing night scenes shot in Detroit, which were very original,” the director states. “Also, I talked with Alejandro Iñárritu, and he said that Rodrigo is very collaborative, with no ego at all. He’s the kind that gets along with people very well.” [...]
Published in the December 2009 issue of American Cinematographer.