Ambivalent or enigmatic paternity is one of the themes of Pedro Almodovar’s recently released Broken Embraces, as is the question of artistic patrimony. The provenance of the cinema-obsessed, fledgling filmmaker who lingers at the periphery of Broken Embraces is British director Michael Powell’s classic meditation on voyeurism, Peeping Tom. In his famed essay, “Contre Sainte-Beuve,” Proust criticized the autobiographical interpretation of art. Is the character of the abandoned son of a wealthy industrialist, who inadvertently films the scene of his father’s mistress’s infidelity and death, a stand-in for Almodovar, a voyeur at the scene of an accident?
Broken Embraces opens with another filmmaker, the blinded protagonist Harry Caine, unable to visually identify the woman he is possibly impregnating, and ends with him gaining paternity of a child he never knew was his.
Wordsworth famously wrote, “The child is father of the man.” But who is the father of the father? Are the claims of the flesh in fact too weak to take precedence over history, or, in the case of Almodovar, film history? Is the Oedipus complex irrelevant to Almodovar’s cinematic universe? Harry Caine steals the mistress of a powerful producer; he is blinded like Oedipus, and yet he goes on to live and thrive as an artist.
Art, rather than passion, is ultimately Almodovar’s lingua franca in Broken Embraces. One of the great transgressions of the movie is an act of vengeance by Harry’s longtime editor, who mutilates his art in a jealous rage. Substitute edit for castrate. The esthetic world that Almodovar creates situates its major rivalry in the act of creation. The real father of Broken Embraces is Bergman, whose Fanny and Alexander makes a cameo appearance as a reminder of the filmmaker’s patrimony.
[This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture.]