ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

There have been a lot of movies about moviemaking, from "Singing in the Rain" to Fellini's "8 �." Our critic Bob Mondello says there's now a new one: "Broken Embraces." It comes from Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar and his muse Penelope Cruz.

BOB MONDELLO: Even if "Broken Embraces" weren't ravishingly shot and passionate about everything from filmmaking to passion itself, you'd still have to marvel at its ingenuity: a director and his muse making a story about a director and his muse and wrapping in a second story about filming them as they film and making all of that a flashback from what happens to the director after he goes blind. Got that? Well, if not, don't sweat it because Pedro Almodovar is a melodramatist who is very much in control.

(Soundbite of film, "Broken Embraces")

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. PENELOPE CRUZ (Actor): (As Lena) (Foreign language spoken).

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) (Speaking foreign language).

MONDELLO: That's Penelope Cruz as a tycoon's mistress auditioning for a role in a comedy called "Girls and Suitcases." She's unhappy, and her tycoon thinks she's happy, so you figure she must be good at acting, but that's not enough in this case. The tycoon offers to pay for the picture if he can have his weasely son shadow her for a making-of documentary. Watching the dailies daily with a hired lip-reader, the tycoon can see what his girlfriend's talking about when she huddles intimately with the director, and things get very complicated from there.

How complicated? Well, start with the fact that these scenes in "Girls and Suitcases" exactly mimic scenes in Almodovar's "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown," and then throw in homages to everything from the thriller "Peeping Tom" to the �60s look of Audrey Hepburn. Almodovar's sort of movie-mad, really: Show him a sign on a hospital wall about donating blood, and he'll soon have characters writing a farce about vampires running a blood bank. But his plots head into darker places, especially once the characters flee the movies to trek through a gorgeous volcanic wasteland.

(Soundbite of music)

MONDELLO: The thrust gets a little lost in those wide-open spaces, but the movie jokes continue - take the leading man's pen name, Harry Caine. British critics have linked it to film noire where Michael Caine plays a character named Harry. In this country, critics are talking about James Caine, the guy who wrote "The Postman Always Rings Twice," but on a windy day, on a wind-swept beach, there's maybe just a nice joke in having a Spanish character shout an English name that sounds like the word for the windiest kind of storm.

(Soundbite of film, "Broken Embraces.")

Ms. CRUZ: (As Lena) Harry Caine.

MONDELLO: If shouting that name can also lock in an emotional climax - and it does - well, that's a nice bonus, right? All of which keeps the pot boiling as Cruz radiates the kind of star power few actresses can manage these days, an allure that just won't stop in "Broken Embraces,� whether Almodovar has her involved in frantic lovemaking or a harrowing tumble down a staircase or the unremarkable act of slicing tomatoes and shedding a single, perfect tear that splashes down onto them and turns scarlet.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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