During the Dubai Film Festival, the actor Lluis Homar of Pedro Almodovar’s Broken Embraces— a film noir about love and betrayal, hurt and revenge in the purest Almodovarian sense—flew in for the screening. Homar’s turn as the sought-after cineaste Mateo Blanco, who has denounced his tragic past and taken on a new identity as the blind Harry Caine is quietly seductive, even in his suffering; it’s easy to see why Penelope Cruz’s character Lena, a sort of tormented Audrey Hepburn, is drawn to him in the first place, no matter the cost.
To watch Almodovar reference his earlier works in a framed manner of storytelling has a comic yet profound impact, and asks that you reflect on the value of art— specifically, Almodovar’s overtly sensual (and sensory) brand of art. It doesn’t come across as vain, though. If anything, it’s posed as a humble question: What’s the point of finishing a movie, albeit blindly? Is it merely selfish/cathartic? Or are its effects enduring, not just to oneself, but to everyone who sees it?
These are deeper questions we should probably try to answer on our own, but Homar stayed after the screening to take some lighter inquiries, to the delight of media and moviegoers alike. Despite his long flight, Homar was in a great mood; he had just heard, minutes before, that the film had been nominated for a Golden Globe.
Here, an excerpt from the Q&A session. [Warning: there are spoilers!]
For a blind man, your character seems to be rather content with his life, and very forgiving with the betrayal of Judit [his friend and producer, played by Blanca Portillo]. Where did he find the ability to forgive and be happy after everything that happens to him?
It has taken me 14 years to forgive. I have been, for so long, avoiding an important part of me. I am not Mateo Blanco anymore; I am just Harry Caine. And then, what I like the most about my character, is that, through his conversations with the young boy, just to make him feel better after his accident [the young boy is Diego, Judit’s son, who has just returned from the hospital after nearly overdosing on drugs and asks Harry to reveal the truth about his mysterious past], I start to relive this part of my life and I accept everything that has happened to me. My character, in a way, gets tired of avoiding the truth. And it’s not just ‘I forgive,’ it’s ‘I accept.’ It doesn’t matter who the guilty one is. It’s about accepting life, which sometimes, is just the way it is.
That sort of acceptance comes across early in the film, through one of the best lines, when Harry says something like: “Careful? What do I have to be careful for? Everything that’s supposed to happen to me has already happened.” How long did it take you to prepare the two characters prior to shooting?
It took me about four months before the start of the shoot, between working with Penelope, and the other actors Blanca Portillo, Jose Luis Gomez. And then I was working with my coach on the blind aspect of my character and going to the gym every day just so I could look like an interesting old man [Laughs]. All the while Pedro was finishing and rewriting the script.
When you went blind, you decided to change your name, and someone in the film says that you decided to do that because being in the dark means being dead. Was that really the reason or was it because Lena was not there anymore?
Well, I think that it’s because everything is finished for me; my career as a filmmaker is over, and I had found the love of my life, but now that she’s gone, I’d rather die than carry on living without her. It’s another way of him refusing to accept life as it is. I’m not going to commit suicide, but I’m going to forget about Mateo Blanco.
What’s the symbolism of the color red not only in this movie, but in all of Almodovar’s movies?
Well, it would be better if he answered this one. It’s true that the color red is a part of his world. I always say that even if you don’t know you’re watching a film by Pedro Almodovar, after ten minutes, you can recognize it’s his work, and part of the reason is the color. Red is the richest of all colors, it’s related to Spain, to blood, to life. I think that Pedro has always given people his own, little piece of Spain, and he does this in part through his use of color.
One of the most delightful and surprising things about the film is the final ‘film within the film,’ and you almost can’t imagine that this director [Harry Caine/Mateo Blanco] would make a movie like that.
Well, the film within the film [titled Girls and Suitcases] is basically a self-homage to Almodovar’s Women on the Verge of A Nervous Breakdown. It’s also a contradiction— to endure the suffering of life while making a film that’s a comedy. It’s a kind of paradox that Almodovar is trying to explain to us.