March 28, 2010
Almodóvar & Amenábar: The Art of Tragedy
Every few years, the world is spoiled by a new Almodóvar film. He never fails to let the public down with a romantic tragedy that takes place in Spain, and leaves you with more romance than tragedy because his emphasis on visual beauty always outweighs his heavy subject matter. His most recent, Abrazos Rotos (Broken Embraces) was no exception.
To a Spanish Outsider, Almodóvar represents a familiar Spanish artist-romantic and engaged in ideas and imagery versus concept and depth of emotion. He takes his Penelope Cruz muse and builds around her a complicated web of relationships that inspire obsession, passion, and betrayal. In Abrazos she in the Marilyn/Audrey of Madrid, playing the star of a movie within a movie in typical Almodóvar fashion. Several layers of voyeurism are offered, as her greedy "businessman" husband and his abandoned son pursue this woman from behind a camera.
People fall in love with Almodóvar because the vibrant colors are much stronger than the grays. For example, in the scene where her husband shoves her down the stairs, you are taken aback but not in horror. Her red clothes are more alarming than the spiteful act. Almodóvar subdues the viewer through her beauty. Asthetics of art win again.
I can't help but think of Alejandro Amenábar, also a filmmaker from Madrid. In his 1997 film Abre los Ojos (Open Your Eyes), he likewise builds a tragedy around men's obsession with Penelope Cruz. In Abrazos, her lover becomes blind. In Abre los Ojos, he becomes disfigured. These men both suffer from a car accident caused by jealous and frustrated ex-lovers. Both become abandoned, ugly, and ostracized, as Penelope becomes figurative and idealized.
In Abrazos, the tragedy is a series of broken images-of torn up photographs and a sabotaged film. Mateo (her lover) might as well be blind now that she is dead. However, in Abre los Ojos, Amenábar makes Cesar (her lover) slowly go crazy, to the point that he must question her entire existence. Amenábar pokes fun at the idea of happiness, the illusion of having it all, as dreams and nightmares walk a fine line. Death is not so simple.
What Amenábar gives you is a grotesque portrayal of tragedy that does justice to human suffering, through bottom-line absurdity. Almodóvar, on the other hand, is much more deconstructive with his plot. He hands viewers things just as they are: bare ingredients-symbolized by Warhol-like paintings of guns and oranges and flowers adorning the background of every scene in Abrazos. You figure the rest.