In his latest, Broken Embraces, Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar manages to compress into a two-hour movie the kind of off-the-wall plot points that could fuel a soap opera for a year. While other directors like Steven Soderbergh or the Coen brothers delight in tackling multiple genres, Almodóvar seems obsessed with bouncing back and forth between just two: the frantic melodrama and the demented comedy.
Almodóvar treats both with his token excess: fretful hand-wringing, kinky sex, heartbreak, prostitution, transvestites, drugs, and complicated family dynamics. If despairing crooner Edith Piaf and wacky subversive John Waters had a love child, it might bear a sensibility close to Almodóvar’s. Broken Embraces blends comic elements in its film-within-a-film, but it is, for the most part, a hysterical, outrageously-plotted melodrama filled with foreboding music and nods to Hitchcock as its characters edge closer and closer to their doom. We know bad things are coming thanks to the multiple cues in music and tone and an understanding — via film and literary precedent — of how beautiful women with angry, rich benefactors and handsome younger lovers, end up.