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Live Flesh

Dir/Wri: Pedro Almodovar Pro: Agustin Almodovar DoP: Affonso Beato Mus: Alberto Iglesias
Cast: Javier Bardem, Francesca Neri, Liberto Rabal, Angela Molina, Jose Sancho

Victor Plaza (Rabal) is fortune’s plaything. He was born in January 1970 on a bus taking his mother, a prostitute, to the hospital, on the day Franco introduced some of his most oppressive legislation. We meet him again twenty years later, and a free lifetime bus pass is the closest to luck he has come in the meantime.




In spite of this, he is still young and life has not yet destroyed his trust in people. He has faith, for example, in Elena (Neri), the only daughter of an Italian diplomat, a rebellious rich kid with a drug habit with whom he has recently shared his first sexual experience. A napkin with her address and phone number written in eyeliner is enough to make him believe that their encounter, in the toilet at a discotheque, was more than just a casual dalliance. (This was in the days when Spain was still making up for lost time after all the years of cruel political and sexual repression blah blah, and so invites some comparisons with Ireland at the moment.) But when he phones her, she has forgotten who he is and has no interesting in seeing him, more preoccupied as she is with waiting for her dealer. When Victor calls to her apartment, he only gets in as a result of mistaken identity, since she thinks he’s the candy man. She pulls a gun on him, which goes off accidentally, and is confused with the sound of a shot being fired on television (in a scene from Bunuel’s The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz). Two cops arrive to investigate, Sancho (Sancho) - a bitter alcoholic who regularly beats his wife Clara (Molina) - and David (Bardem) - his young partner who is having a secret (how secret?) affair with Clara. There follows a scene which will change all of their lives, as David is hit by a stray bullet that leaves him paralysed in a wheelchair for the rest of his life, and Victor is found guilty and goes to prison to serve his sentence.
From behind bars, Victor watches as David becomes a star of the Barcelona Paralympics, and when he gets out of gaol he finds that David is now married to the reformed Elena, and he begins an affair with Clara (possibly because he maintains that Sancho pulled the trigger that fateful night).
It is hard to appreciate much of Almodovar if one is not overly troubled by sexual jealously. However, perhaps all of us have at some time suffered from this affliction, or at least contain the possibility of doing so. While enjoying the camp aspects of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, High Heels and Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down, I have never been an admirer of his earlier over-the-top work, with its band of egotistic macho madmen, however representative of Spanish manhood they may be. All the usual Almodovar ingredients of betrayal, guilt, infidelity, jealously, revenge and obsession (he always was a good Catholic boy) are present here, but the kitsch elements of the above mentioned movies are missing, replaced by a more mainstream straightforwardly dramatic approach.
Based loosely on the Ruth Rendell novel of the same name, the film ends with the birth of Victor’s son, which again happens in the streets, around Yuletide, when he and the mother are trapped in a traffic jam. Though the anxiety at the imminent birth is the same, the circumstances are very different: twenty-six years earlier the streets were deserted, but now the crowds make it impossible for cars to move, as the sidewalks are filled with cheerful, drunken consumers. “The people lost their fear long ago,” as Almodovar tells us in his notes. In general, there is less playful irony on show here than we have come to expect from him, and more overt didacticism, as illustrated by these clumsy political bookends to the story. But it’s still worth a look for any fans, of which there appear to be multitudes.

First published in Film Ireland













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