Almodovar shows his dark side with "Broken Embraces"

MADRID (Reuters) - This year in Spanish cinema, Pedro Almodovar is the new black.

Spanish director Pedro Almodovar (L) poses with actress Penelope Cruz during a photocall for his new movie "Los Abrazos Rotos" (Broken Embraces) in Madrid, in this file photo from March 13, 2009. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

Oscar-winning director Almodovar’s latest film “Broken Embraces” drops his distinctive comic melodrama for the best tradition of “film noir,” the dark and stylish film genre used in many crime dramas.

Set for release on March 18 in Spain and in the rest of Europe in May, the film stars recent Oscar winner Penelope Cruz in the role of a tragedy-dogged aspiring actress.

“The film noir genre is one of my favorites,” Almodovar told reporters at a screening of the film on Friday. “The fact this film was really “black” was what was very satisfying.”

“Broken Embraces” centers on a quartet of characters in the movie business whose lives are interwoven in a torrid tale of love, power, secrecy, betrayal and vengeance. There is the actress Lena (Cruz), script writer and director Mateo, film producer Judith and unscrupulous financier Ernesto

The dark and stylish cinematography recalls classic Hollywood thrillers of the 1940s and 1950s, including one scene where Lena’s jealous lover pushes her down a long, winding staircase, evoking a similar scene in Henry Hathaway’s “The Kiss of Death.”

Almodovar described “Broken Embraces” -- his 17th film and with the highest budget yet of 11 million euros ($14.16 million) -- as “the story of my love for the cinema.”

Spain’s most famous director is known for melodramatic tragedy mixed with frenetic comedy in films like “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” and “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!”.

He won the Oscar for screenwriting “Talk to Her,” about two men who form an unlikely bond when both their girlfriends are in comas, and he has only flirted with film noir style in earlier films, such as “Trembling Flesh.”

“Broken Embraces” marks the fourth collaboration between Almodovar and Cruz, who last month won the Oscar for best supporting actress in a role as an eccentric Spanish painter in Woody Allen’s “Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona.”

Cruz was effusive in her praise of Almodovar.

“I’ve been obsessed with his films since I was a youngster,” she said, adding that if she were told she could only work with one director for the rest of her life it would be “without doubt” Almodovar.

Reporting by Judy MacInnes; editing by Bob Tourtellotte