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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It might seem incredible to believe now that in the early 1990s Pedro
Almodovar, now firmly one of the great directors, was thought to have lost
his way. The films had become excessively formal they said, squeezing out
character, comedy and narrative; the sexual daring had stepped over the
and become gratuitous and nasty - there is one sequence here in which a
is treated as comic, becomes enjoyable for the victim, and produces a
redemptive conception. With films like this and 'Kika', Almodovar was
accused of believing his own hype, of taking the grand claims of auteurism
too seriously, and forgetting about the things that had made him precious
the first place, the audacity, the iconoclasm, the fun.
Now we can appreciate 'HIgh Heels' as a dry run for his masterpiece, 'All About My Mother', with which it shares some startling similarities - the daring colours, the rich compositions, the masterly camerawork; the central parent/child relationship; Marisa Parades as a performer; the themes of identity and imitation. But, while hugely flawed, 'Heels' is also an entertaining film in its own right, full of (naturally) astounding acting, perverse plotting and a gloriously full, melodramatic score.
What hampers the film is its reliance on genre. Although ostensibly a typical Almodovar melodrama, visualising the emotional and sexual lives of his female characters, the plot is underpinned by a murder mystery. His remarkable 'Live Flesh' shows how genre can be used for complex, non-generic ends, but he hasn't quite got there with 'Heels'. The crime story is useful as a springboard, offsetting and bringing various crises and themes together, but just as the film is about to hit an emotional crescendo, it is weighed down by the need to tie up loose plot ends, so that a climax that should be moving and cathartic ends up in a grotesque haggling over guns and fingerprints.
None of this is thematically irrelevant - the characters are as emotionally trapped as they are by generic circumstances; Paredes claiming Abril's murder, her transferring her fingerprints on the murder weapon, her dying for her daughter's sin in a religious parody, explicitely revealed in the final composition, framed and coloured like a sacred painting, all form part of the film's variations on family, the past and present, tradition and individuality, responsibility, anti-Oedipal struggles, and, especially, imitation, this latter embodied in the figure of the Judge, a man representing a monolithic institution, run by men (while the women languish in prison), who is in fact three (or more) people, his very existence a rejection of dogmatism, of the stable, certain, repressive - in the end he will marry and (unwittingly?) shield a murderer. His imitation of Paredes mirrors negatively her daughter's feelings of inferiority, that she is a bad pastiche, can't even imitate her as well as a drag queen.
This theme of artifice, visualised in the sets and colours, in the mirrors and reflecting glass that splits characters into multiple versions of themselves, does not suggest the world is fake, but that people have so many complex, often contradictory emotions and desires, that they cannot possibly be contained in one, whole, identity; single identity is here equated with death, in the case of macho reactionary hypocrite Manuel. Truth even manages to subvert the fabrications of the media, with Abril's on-air confession, although its status as truth is automatically made suspect (anything said on telly couldn't possibly be true, could it?).
The film is full of wonderful flourishes, in particular the musical sequences, a thrilling dance scene in the prison, heartbreaking torch songs at moments of drama-overspilling crisis. In each individual scene, Almodovar's control of all his technical tools is faultless. Put together, though, and the thing doesn't seem to cohere. It must have been the script.
I like the films made by director Pedro Almodóvar and 'Tacones Lejanos'
('High Heels') is no exception. Even his lesser film ('Kika') have
something to enjoy, most of all because they are so very different from
other films you have seen. Like a Tarantino-film, an Almodóvar-film is
sort of like a genre on itself. Although Almodóvar reached greatness
with 'Todo Sobre Mi Madre' and especially 'Hable Con Ella', his earlier
films like 'Mujeres al Borde de un Ataque de Nervios' and this one are
a lot of fun. He mixes so many genres here, uses symbolism in such an
effective way, the least thing it does is being original. I guess there
is nothing wrong with that.
The story involves a daughter Rebeca (Victoria Abril), her famous mother Becky (Marisa Paredes) who returns to Spain after fifteen tears, a murder that could have been committed by Rebeca, Becky and a third suspect, Judge Domínguez (Miguel Bosé) who is on the case, and a lot of colorful supporting characters. I could tell you more but the plot is not really the issue here. Although this films sounds like a drama, maybe a detective or a thriller even, it is closer to a comedy because of the way Almodóvar handles the absurd situations. There is a scene where Rebeca, an anchorwoman, tells something about the murder where she herself is one of the suspects. Next to her sits a woman who does the news in sign language. The whole scene, which is dramatic in what it tells us, is one of the best moments of comedy I have seen.
Of course the themes here are really dramatic. Not only we have the murder, we also have Rebeca who has wanted to impress her mother her entire life. It is just that Almodóvar creates a world that reminds you of a soap opera that can bring comedy out of every dramatic event. That his film is more serious than you might think is proved by the symbolism he uses. Scenes where Rebeca is temporarily in prison show her in a symbolic way how she feels. In another beautiful scene we see Rebeca driving her car, but it is the wall on the background that draws her attention. It is like her entire life is written on the wall. Almodóvar who loves to use bright colors finds an effective way here to use them, representing the state the character is in. It is not only effective it is quite beautiful to look at as well.
Great stuff here from Mr Almodovar, with Victoria Abril in full effect. The
result is a technicolour rollercoaster of a film. And they all break into
song and dance too, way before Woody Allen tried it.
Strange that this film is so little shown, given the popularity both of the earlier "Women on the Verge..." and the recent "All About My Mother". If you can catch it at the cinema, all the better because the pace and colour is quite dazzling.
Do you have one singular childhood memory that would seem insignificant to
the rest of the world? Rebeca does and it has defined her life of trying to
be somebody that her famous mother will notice.
Rebeca and Becky's final realization of each other's own self finally comes in the unselfish gesture that defines motherhood -- sacrifice.
Although this movie is listed as a drama, the madness surrounding most of Almodovar leading ladies is ever present. Raunchy and racy, as well as tender and sweet, this movie is well worth the look if you can find it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Generally considered "lesser Almodovar" by many writer/critics,
"Tacones Lejanos" is, in fact, one of the director's most stunning
works. This film's true themes/motif pays tribute to "Golden Age
Hollywood" and it's mythic lore. Aldomovar deliberately crafted this
film as "homage" to Douglas Sirk's "Imitation Of Life" and, more
importantly, it's star -Lana Turner.
"Douglas Sirk's celebrated maternal melodrama "Imitation Of Life" also begins with a child lost at a holiday location... And the multiple parallels between the two plots are clear: both focus on the life of a mother-performer, on maternal neglect, mother-daughter strife, and incestuous rivalry over a man: in "Tacones Lejanos" Rebeca will marry Becky's ex-lover. And in the murder of a male lover shared by two women, Almodovar may also be drawing on press accounts of Turner's real-life drama which, famously and ambiguously, fed into one of her most commercially successful screen roles. When Almodovar has Rebeca tell Becky "stop acting, mother!", he is signaling a quite explicit reference to "Imitation Of Life".
When Victoria Abril's Rebeca opens her handbag, Almodovar cuts to a loving close-up of its Chanel label. English-language critics have used this attention to costume and detail to attack the supposed triviality of "Tacones Lejanos", obsessed as it would appear to be with accessories. Almodovar is paying homage here to a Hollywood tradition. The production notes for "Imitation Of Life" also stress the importance of Lana Turner's gowns and jewels, valued at over a million dollars.
At first sight, however, Almodovar seems merely to have retained and intensified Sirk's formalism while jettisoning his broader concerns but... Aldomovar is insistent on the lack of irony in Sirk's films; curiously so when Sirk himself and most modern critics take ironic distance to be his most characteristic response to the melodramatic material he handled so skilfully." (From: "Critical Studies in Latin American and Iberian Cultures- Desire Unlimited, The Cinema of Pedro Almodovar") "La Lana" Turner was many things to many people- but here's the "self-referencial" in Madame's "Trash Yourself" oeuvre that Almodovar pays tribute to: LANA TURNER: The Lady & The Legend- "She started in Andy Hardy kid's stuff but soon dazzled audiences in films like "Ziegfeld Girl" & "Johnny Eager". As a top WW II pin-up girl, she inspired many a man to come back home to Mama. After the war, MGM turned up the heat, transitioning her to full-on glamorous movie star in films like "The Postman Always Rings Twice" & "The Bad And The Beautiful".
In 1958, Lana picked a real doozie (of a lover): small-time hood and big-time ladies' man, Johnny Stompanato, a henchman for mobster Mickey Cohen. On April 4, (her daughter) Cheryl, 14, was home from school, lucky for Lana. Johnny slapped Lana and told her ...he'd ruin her face so she'd never work again. Cheryl, hearing everything outside the bedroom door, ran downstairs, terrified, and grabbed a kitchen knife...
When a movie star is involved in a crime, the last person they want to see is a cop ..."Attorney to the stars" Jerry Geisler rushed to Bedford Drive. Some say Johnny was still alive and Geisler let him bleed out. The rumor that won't die is that Lana killed Johnny and Geisler convinced her to let Cheryl, a minor, take the fall. The next day the world heard the news...
The press build-up was pure Hollywood: Stompanato's funeral; Turner's insistence that he was an unwelcome presence in her life; his brother's announcement that Johnny was stabbed lying down. The coup de grace came two days before the inquest when "Lanita's" love letters to her Johnny, filled with burning desires, were plastered across front pages worldwide -a little payback from Mickey Cohen, Stompanato's pal.
Geisler got Cheryl excused from the inquest and that made Lana the star of the show. And what a show. The morning of the inquest, as hundreds of fans gathered downtown, Lana's make-up and hair people were giving her the works...She entered that courtroom "camera ready" for the greatest performance of her life. In the hushed, sweltering L.A. courtroom, Lana Turner breathlessly explained how her teenage daughter came to murder her gangster boyfriend.
Only the clicking of cameras could be heard during Turner's anguished 62 minute testimony... The hearing lasted three hours. The jury returned a verdict in less than 20 minutes: justifiable homicide. Mickey Cohen griped to the press, "It's the first time in my life I've ever seen a dead man convicted of his own murder. So far as that jury was concerned, Johnny just walked too close to that knife." So go figure.
After all the negative publicity, Lana's career was barely affected. As the 50's neared a close ...the public created the happy ending they needed to see.
And the world had one less cheap hood in it.
And Lana Turner would carry on... and continued to star in films of the 60's ...two of which, "Imitation Of Life" & "Madam X", drew shamelessly on her real-life troubles.
P.S. the public loved them." (condensed from an article by Laurie Jacobson.) "Life With Lana": Three generations of women lived together, on and off, for a long time. Both "Lanita" and her mother were big-league drinkers and would "go at it" at the dining room table while little Cheryl looked on. Often, diamond rings, bracelets and invective slashed the air as dinner plates flew- "Don't EVER forget who pays the bills around here -and if you don't like anything I do ...you can GET OUT!" Impotent and powerless, respectively, against that force of Nature, "La Lana" -they shut up and ate their din-din.
This family dynamic (and it's consequences) is played out in variation to devastating effect in the Aldomovar film.
HIGHLY recommended as a double-feature with the Sirk/Turner opus!
I have seen almost all Almodovar films, as he is a unique and eccentric
director with vision. Eccentricity is not the case with this one.
Humour is almost absent. Maybe you have by now figured out I prefer
other, more humorous and provokative Almodovar films. Not that it's no
good. It is, with tight acting and nice storyline. It didn't touch me
though, as it was supposed to, and as a friend suggested. See also
other Almodovar reviews by me to see what I mean.
For something completely different from this, see the next film of Almodovar, 1993, KIKA, as well as LABYRINTH OF PASSION, MATADOR. Blasphemous, humorous, explosive! Whatever the case, I should recommend this to people who saw other more exessive Almodovar films and didn't like it. This is much more serious, with firm storyline and great acting by everyone, as well as TALK TO HER.
A very enjoyable, intricate tale that elevates its somewhat mundane plot by turning things in a new direction whenever it starts to get stale. It's got a lot of the usual Almodovar stamps: high melodrama mixed with black comedy, insane coincidences, twisted relationships and of course dazzling use of color. Early on the theme of mother-daughter rivalry reminded me of AUTUMN SONATA, so I was quite tickled to hear the relationship being directly compared to that film later on. The movie doesn't have the magic of Almodovar's best works, perhaps because the performances as a whole aren't that impressive. However, even second-tier Almodovar is better than most stuff out there... it's got some really good laughs and an engaging series of twists and reversals. The out-of-nowhere prison dance scene is delightfully offbeat (although I felt like Almodovar was actually holding back a bit).
Like a multilayered cake, filled with delicious flavors and rainbow
colors that satisfy the palate and the eyes, this film is so round and
perfect that it's impossible to think it could have been better.
I saw it when it came out and tonight I saw it again for the second time, the impression was as fresh and fulfilling as the first time around. The acting of both Marisa Paredes and Victoria Abril are true tour de force performances, something to be seen to believe it, although everybody in this film is picture perfect. The cinematography, the editing, the acting, the sets, the music and the wardrobe, all top drawer.
There are not as many humorous scenes here as in other Almodovar films, but they are as accomplished as any he has done before, and it must be very unfortunate for non Spanish speaking audiences because most of the humor is spoken, something totally untranslatable in subtitles, and that is something palpably noticed when reading some of the other reviews, that missed completely the totally Spanish flavor and humor.
Marisa Paredes must have been something out of this world as a young woman because even here, in some close ups the perfection of her features are breathtaking and as an actress I'm convinced she must be one of the great ones, just incredible.
Bibi Andersen (the tallest woman in the jail scenes) was at the time the best known female impersonator in Spain and he/she looks really stunning with a figure that any woman would gladly kill to have.
I adore Almodovar film making, so to me this is his best film ever, but then I think the same about all the rest of his cinematography.
An interesting mystery plot that is made a special film due to Almodovar's
unique style of directing, his obsessions, his actresses and, maybe, above
all the music investment.
A District Attorney who performs queen-shows, a daughter in the shade of her mother's glory, a mother under the pressure of her own glory, both involved with the same man (who is involved with other women as well), a different aspect of the TV and a different use of the TV-set. In addition two incredible songs "Un ano de amor" and "Piensa en mi".
Released internationally as 'High Heels', the actual title of this Pedro Almodóvar comedy translates as 'Distant Heels', an idea of significance towards the end of the film as events take a sharp dramatic turn. Whatever the case, summing up what exactly this film is about is not easy as it is an unpredictable ride throughout (in the best sort of way) with lots of surprise revelations and plot twists and turns; the characters also often do what we least expect of them. In short, the film might be best thought of as Almodóvar's take on 'Autumn Sonata' - which even gets explicitly mentioned - as the plot focuses on a successful television news anchor and her resentment of her diva mother who traumatised her as a child. As the plot unfolds, we learn that she married one of her mother's former beaus. Did she do it for revenge or to humiliate her mother or was it simply a coincidence? As the plot thickens and something happens to her husband, even further questions arise with regards to her intentions, and it is perhaps best not to say more to avoid ruining a fresh experience of the film. While the narrative sometimes feels all over the place and not everything that occurs is especially credible (especially the jail that seems more like a summer camp!), the film has an undeniable charm to it. Miguel Bosé also has one surefire interesting character that raises questions about personal identity and role-playing, which is part of what the film is about: the two female protagonists coming to accept their roles of mother and daughter, career aspirations and other concerns aside.
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