A lonely man in Barcelona lives with his wife that he does not love and gets obsessed with Bilbao, a stripper/prostitute. His desire to possess her physically leads him further and further to a fetishist climax and a tragedy with a more or less surprising ending.
Fifteen years ago, I saw the final 30 minutes of this movie, I was struck by it's imagery, and proceeded to check out the other works of this very particular Spanish director, with a very personal view of Spanish culture. Being an admirer of his work, I should admit that his career has its ups and downs. But Bilbao is sure one of its peaks. Bigas Luna achieves to get the viewer really inside the obsessive universe the main character with his excellent direction, the music, the editing, the frequent close-ups, and the voice-off. It was for me the discovery of Bigas and it has now made clear some of his obsessions, cliches and recurring themes. And if sometimes in his recent work (like in Jamon, Jamon or Bambola) there is too much of "artificial" cliches, in Bilbao there is frankness and truth in the story being told.
If you were offended by the (apparent, imho) misogyny which lead to criticism of some of his recent movies, than don't watch this one: here, women are really objects, although not mere but fundamental objects. La Carne, by Marco Ferreri, has a similar point of view. Besides the relationship of Leo with Bilbao and his wife Maria, it is also very interesting to see the way he mingles and relates with the city itself and the urban life in which he hides and finds comfort.
This movie created a big controversy in Spain (like Tristana in 1970). In 1978 Franco had already died and Spain was starting to live in democracy. But even today, some will find this movie offensive. Sex is depicted quite graphically. Well, if you know Bigas Luna you know what to expect: this time his hero has fishing line, ropes, a bottle of chloroform and an electric shaver...
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