Almodóvar! There are so many abrazos with cinema itself in this film that I feel like everything’s just gone over my head. I love it. The story and the characters are always intertwined in his films, and in this film especially, the story is as convoluted as life itself. Beginning with several jumps back and forth in time, settling in for several stories within the story, the film is crafted like a mystery (and it often embraces genre suspense as a matter of style). Yet, despite his usual flair for deep color and inspired camera movements, the film is entirely too grounded in realistic characters to be considered a mere genre exercise. It is a story best left told by the film, though one that seems entirely familiar to those with knowledge of the filmmaker’s cinematic world post-All About My Mother (meaning that while it has its funny moments, it keeps the irreverent comedy to a minimum and the abstract surrealistic moments of his earlier work are left behind for an almost weighty air of non-exaggerated melodrama).
Pedro Almodóvar has long been a filmmaker with a reputation for both writing very strong roles for women and gracefully reveling in their innate beauty, but this film takes that revelry to a whole new, queer place (pun=intentional). These are elements that I don’t have the wherewithal to expand on now, but suffice to say all of his usual auteurist troupes are on display here. Though, this film centers around a central male character; a filmmaker, now a pseudonymous writer, who has somehow become blind in the course of the story yet to be told; a man living a constructed life he has created from the life he lost with his sight. Despite Lluís Homar‘s leading presence, Penélope Cruz is, of course, the center of this film and she is given a role that is, for lack of a better phrase, simply to die for (easily one of the best female roles/performances of the year). She plays a woman playing an actress, who pretends to love a man who helps her family. As always with his complex narratives, there are a lot of questions about what is happening or what did happen, but most of this is satisfactorily explained by the end (if you need to know that ahead of time). I have questions about the significance of the film within the film, Chicas y Maletas, which no doubt refers to a earlier film experience of Almodóvar himself or something I don’t have the filmic knowledge to appreciate (edit: it is said to be a play on Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, which I have yet to see). I enjoyed the journey, regardless.
Visual references abound for the fellow cinema lover: from the obvious lean toward Hitchcock (Rear Window, Suspicion, and Vertigo were the ones I could pick out immediately), a passing nod to Belle de Jour, an early and then later direct reference to Powell & Pressburger’s Peeping Tom, and a television playing a scene from Rossellini’s Voyage to Italy (!).
These aside from the countless costumed references Cruz is put through in her own self-image; from Audrey Hepburn, Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Loren, Barbara Stanwyck and/or Joan Crawford (couldn’t tell which one exactly), maybe Marilyn Monroe (or some lesser known European equivalent I can’t quite place), the visual overload in this film is enough to have you wish for some sort of concordance reference book to go along with film. Yet, the film is not some adolescent pastiche of post-modern gazing. All these references live within the film as part of the film being seen (blindness and sight; light and dark; Image and Imago being obvious, re-occuring metaphors here). I’m simply in awe. I’ll leave you with pictures – the only thing that could possibly do this film justice (short of watching it yourself in glorious motion):