Dinner & a Movie: Tapas at Bilbao, Almodovar for Dessert"/>
The Dinner: Feta cheese empanadas, los panes vegetarianos, two>"/>
The Dinner: Feta cheese empanadas, los panes vegetarianos, two bottles of San Miguel, and fettuccine con pollo at Bilbao Tapas Bar & Restaurant (4500 9th Avenue NE)
The Movie: Pedro Almodovar's Broken Embraces, right next door at Landmark's Metro Cinemas.
The Screenplate: With a spirited Spanish core and a bold drive to break the monotony of cultural stereotypes, Broken Embraces and Bilbao serve as a perfect--not to mention conveniently conjoined--night out for the internationally-inspired gourmet and/or cineaste.
Bilbao's warm and formal interior is dotted with flashes of quaint universality. The owner's smiling face was the first to greet me, and my girlfriend swears one of the male servers winked at her. The general decorum of Bilbao is convention spiced with a comfortable level of rebellion against your average, milquetoast dining experience. Similar restaurants simply aim to flatter and glut their patrons, so much so that an otherwise active filmgoer is often left sluggish and half-comatose in their comfy chairs before the previews are finished. By contrast, Bilbao's appetizer-centric dining experience--the root of the "tapas" form of cuisine mentioned in its full name--prepares and nourishes the attention span.
For a filmmaker as dense and playful as Almodovar, the assistance is more than welcome.
The plot of Broken Embraces may read as contrived. Magdalena Rivas, a beautiful but failing actress, is taken up by an obsessed older man of means when her father falls deathly ill and is forced from his hospital bed onto the streets. Years later, the resources afforded to Magdalena by her withered lover allow her to meet with a young, successful director, Mateo Blanco, who almost immediately casts her in a movie, and just as quickly falls into a lurid affair with her. The older man begins to spy on Magdalena and Mateo, wherein his suspicions slowly boil to violence. Mateo whisks Magdalena away from her abuser to the island paradise of Lanzarote and lives in bliss with her until they hear their movie has been released without either of their consent. Curiosity, or perhaps vanity, leads to Mateo slipping from obscurity to check on the film that brought him to his love--and tragedy ultimately manifests.
The narrative is constantly skeptical toward how convention would dictate it resolve itself. Is the udience really supposed to cheer for the unfaithful lovers, running away from their problems? What happens to the children left behind? Do we really value catharsis over personal responsibility? Do we want to be loved or entertained?
But just as in any film worth watching (or any culinary experience worth indulging in), the value of Broken Embraces transcends any summary. Just as I cannot properly recount the joy of biting through empanada crust firm enough to keep up a conversation without spraying more starch than coherence, I could not do justice to Almodovar's near-seamless delivery of the adversity of a blind director-cum-writer who is forced to change the very nature of his existence due to the cataclysm of heartbreak.
The story might be a sad one, but the film refuses to follow suit. Most subversive narratives bring about the unfair preconception of a tragic, even nihilistic conclusion. With Broken Embraces, I left the theater just as I did the restaurant: sated, optimistic, and with a closer bond to the person I walked in with.