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Saturday, October 14, 2017 by Sanya

In Pedro Almodóvar’s latest mise-en-abîme of a film, the protagonist is a director who makes a movie called Chicas y Maletas (Girls and Suitcases). This film is a tongue-in-cheek remake of the movie that put Almodóvar on the map, Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios [Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, 1988]. The plot of the latter anything but simple, but the film revolves around Pepa (played by Carmen Maura) who frantically looks for her former lover Ivan in order to give him a suitcase full of his things and to tell him some very important news. The suitcase is a textbook MacGuffin –and it’s worth noting that in Hitchcock’s original explanation, the MacGuffin is literally a piece of baggage — while also symbolizing the emotional baggage of a past relationship, which Pepa must eventually ditch in order to free herself from him. (She ends up throwing the suitcase in a dumpster.)

Carmen Maura as Pepa: on the verge of a nervous breakdown. (Don’t mind the French subtitles.)

In Broken Embraces, Penelope Cruz takes on the Pepa role in the film-within-a-film, with one crucial difference: she’s on crutches. The crutches are not a prop: In the principal plot of Broken Embraces, her husband pushes her down the stairs when she tries to leave him for the director. She is both emotionally and physically crippled by him, but goes on to finish the film despite her disability. The interesting thing about this is that the Spanish word for “crutches” is muletas, which is almost identical to maletas (suitcases). The meaning of the play on words is clear: Her former lover is a crutch that she too must cast aside in order to move on.

Penelope Cruz as Lena, wearing red and leaving with a suitcase of her own.

Carmen Machi as Chon, visiting Lena. [What a fat big toe!”] Lena’s crutches are in the background. (P.S. I  love her dress.)

Another layer: the director of the film (Mateo Blanco, who changes his name to Harry Caine) is also impaired: he becomes blind in the car accident in which he loses his lover (Cruz as Lena). Fourteen years later, he re-edits Chicas y Maletas in order to repair himself and move on. Almodóvar, when speaking about this character, mentioned that he recently had been afflicted with crushing migraines and wondered what it would be like to make a film as a blind man. The underlying message of this film, in which life and cinema are fully intertwined? We must live and love despite all handicaps (emotional, physical and everything in between). The last line: “Films must be finished, even in the dark.” This is a fitting metaphor for the creative process as well.

Lluís Homar as the blind Harry Caine: His lack of vision is momentarily overcome by touch as he caresses the screen.

Category:film reviews

Tagged:broken embraces, carmen machi, carmen maura, chicas y maletas, lluis homar, los abrazos rotos, mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios, pedro almodovar, penelope cruz, women on the verge of a nervous breakdown