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One of Almodovar's favourite conceits is the use of old TV and movie
images as ironic commentary on our modern lives. He loves the sheer
trashiness of those millions of hours of low-grade output and he likes to
mimic 1950's sitcom formats ("Women On The Verge") or to splice 'quotes'
from old footage into his modern tales. It's a device which he uses very
effectively in this film. When the gun is fired in the apartment, a shot
rings out from the TV set in the corner. The fake news item of the bus
birth, in black and white to represent the drabness of Franco's Spain, is a
loving recreation of TV's golden age. Women are mannequins in these old TV
shows, used by men as objects of prurient displays, and of violence. Our
mass media have drugged us, suggests Almodovar, into being passive
recipients of authority's handouts. We can no longer distinguish between
entertainment and reality. David confronts Victor and wounds him in the
testicles, but the two enemies are immediately distracted by the soccer game
on TV and become 'guys together', forgetting their hatred in the communal
false orgasm of the scored goal.
Names are always important in Almodovar films, and in this one they hold the key to the story's many meanings. Elena is Helen of Troy, the creature who radiates unconscious sexual appeal and leads men into war and destruction. Victor Plaza's name contains several layers of symbolic importance. He is the film's real victor, overcoming the misfortune of the shooting and his own sexual imbecility to attain true happiness in America. Many Spanish towns have a 'Plaza de la Victoria', a municipal tribute to the great historical sea triumph of Lepanto. In this sense Victor's name makes him the personification of ordinary Spanish life, a hispanic Everyman. Isabel Plaza Caballero, the prostitute whose wretched short life becomes a saintly image of suffering and continuity, has the name of Spain's great Catholic queen and the title of a 'gentlewoman'. For Almodovar there is no contradiction in a whore having nobility. Sancho is a kind of Sancho Panza to David's Quixote, the latter idealistic but impotent, the former iconoclastic and comical.
Almodovar's trademark is the looping circular plot in which the characters both repeat and vary their patterns of behaviour, crossing one another's paths and inadvertently echoing the actions of others. Nowhere is this better illustrated than here. The plot is almost literally circular, beginning and ending with childbirth in a wheeled vehicle, and Victor's life-defining moment hinging on the circular bus ride which brings him back to the identical spot where he started, a payphone on the Calle Eduardo Dato. The characters penetrate one another's lives in ways that are totally convincing, and with a grounding in human psychology which few writers or directors can display.
Opposites and contradictions are everywhere. Victor is the prison convict, the sexual inadequate born of a prostitute on a bus, who rises to become an admirable man, sexually proficient, successful, and a loving husband and father. Sancho the macho cop is a spiritual cripple, relying on alcohol to deaden the pain of his failure as a lover. David the real cripple is a national sporting hero. The mother is the whore, the charity director is the heroin addict and the naive lad is the jailbird. The welcome mat on Clara's threshold is the cruellest of ironies. Marriage and sexual coupling are the fabric of the story, but in fact everyone is cuckolded sooner or later. David used to 'service' Clara, now Victor performs that function, and the 'manly' Sancho is sexually redundant. Elena copulates with Victor at the dramatic climax, and we recall that it was a sexual encounter between these two which launched the whole story.
It is hard to watch Almodovar's work without thinking of Bunuel. The adolescent preoccupation with the 'obscure object of desire' is a good example. Almodovar is fascinated by the vagina, and over and over again in this film we see men's heads buried between women's legs. Two boy children emerge from wombs, David performs oral sex on Elena in the bath, Victor studies Clara's pudendum, David approaches Elena's genitalia along his wheelchair ramp. The great sloping twin towers of Madrid's Puerta de Europa form an architectural pun, a visual representation of a woman's open thighs. Victor's emotional speech at Isabel's burial site (apart from advancing the plot neatly) is one more image of a man's face in a woman's vagina, the grave being the ultimate womb. This particular vagina brought Victor into the world, and through its immoral earnings it gave him the money to live.
The first Christmas in the film, like the First Christmas, happens in a very unpromising setting. It is cold in Madrid in every sense. The final years of Franco's joyless, oppressive reign are conveyed very effectively in a restrained palette of blacks, browns and greys. A state of emergency has been declared by a faceless Authority, grown paranoid about the danger of 'outside influences'. Victor has entered a drab and frightened world, with a bus driver as his reluctant Joseph. By the close of the film Christmas has acquired its cheerful capitalist trappings. This is a 'Christmas in the sun'. Victor is in the young land of freedom and opportunity. He has come of age and is now the complete man. The future looks bright for the New David, father and son.
Spain, more than most nations, has to deal with its ghosts. The Franco
years were a time of enforced stasis, a period when no creativity was
allowed to thrive, and progress of any kind was suppressed ruthlessly. A
false mentality was imposed on the nation, a communal fantasy looking back
in time to a supposedly innocent 'golden age'. Spaniards were forced to see
themselves and their culture in terms of Carmens and castanets, fans and
fandangos. A people was frozen in time for forty years, and fed on a diet
of synthetic movies and novels which summoned up a sexless, crime-free rural
idyll, Franco's concept of nationhood. While the West had the Rolling
Stones, Spain had troubadors in sombreros. The galloping modernity which
has transformed Spanish society in a single generation has given the young
adults of today an interesting 'window' on history. While the West has
moved smoothly from Sinatra to Sid Vicious, from Marilyn Munroe to Marilyn
Manson, Spain has a deep chasm between today and yesterday. Almodovar is
intensely concerned with this gap, and his films serve two functions in
respect of it. They analyse the social forces which created it (and were
spawned by it), and they help Spain to bridge the barranco. It is time now
for Spain to move on. When Elena meets Victor for one final date, the
purpose of the sexual coupling is to wipe out the guilt which clings to
their shared past.
New and Old clash on every street corner. We hear a soundtrack of anodyne 'traditional' songs overlaid on scenes of black immigrants doing drug deals. Sancho is a model of old-fashioned manhood who tries, but fails, to castrate the New Man, Victor. The house left to Victor by his mother is out in the northern satellits township of Ventilla, a working-class ghetto of high-rise tenements, Franco's already-rotting 'solution' to Spain's social problems.
Cinematically, "Carne Tremula" is second only to "Todo Sobre Mi Madre" as an example of Almodovar's assured command of the film-maker's craft. Transitions are especially well-done. A bus door opens and we see, through the cab, Victor standing, waiting to board. This is the portal of movement opening for Victor, the boy with the gift of lifetime freedom of the buses (symbolically, the 'new' Spaniard, born to a life of movement). Clara remembers her first sexual intercourse, and looks at a photo of herself in First Communion dress. Both events were first communions, both were rites of passage, abandoning the childhood phase. Almodovar moves the action forward from 1980's Madrid to Barcelona in the Olympic Year (1992) by showing the olympic logo on the cycle track, viewed from overhead, as the cyclists cross it. To end Victor's prison sequence, a bus (always his symbol) passes right to left, 'wiping' the prison and revealing the free man. Sancho the housebound husband is re-introduced with power and economy when Clara crosses her own 'welcome' mat to be greeted by him. Fire, earth, ice and water are used as 'gates' in the narrative, marking new beginnings (for example, Clara's frying-pan catches fire because Victor distracts her by announcing the end of the affair). Isabel's waters break on the bus, and we see men in water at moments of 're-birth' (David in the bath, newly secure in the permanence of Elena's love).
Stalking is a strong theme, Almodovar inverting and perverting the idea of sexual arousal and pursuit. Voyeurism can be innocent and healthy (young Victor watching Elena in her apartment) but becomes sick when the watcher is impotent and jealous (David filming the Victor-Clara couplings). Victor pursues Elena, even wearing a wolf's head in order to close in on her.
Clara is the woman with no sense of direction, whose emotional life is arid. She depends on but does not love the useless Sancho. She loves but cannot possess the sexually potent Victor. The mutual gunning-down of Clara and Sancho is pre-ordained, both in the earlier attempt, and in the shooting by which Sancho launched the narrative.
Elena, like many young bourgeois adults, had a heroin phase in her teen years, but has put that behind her and leads a useful and caring life. However, character is fate. She cannot escape the consequences of her sexual union with Victor. The 'final date' is the powerful climax of the film, the fatal destiny to which all of these characters are tending. It speaks volumes of Almodovar's talent that his highly-improbable last reel, with all of the central characters converging on one spot, is entirely believable.
In a film predicated on contradictions, David is contradiction personified. The sporting champion with no life in his penis, the good man who cuckolded his friend and partner, the hero of the stand-off in the apartment who becomes the raging jealous spectator on the sidelines, David is both admirable and despicable. His obsession with basketball is psychologically neat - a sublimation of his damaged machismo - and also a devastating revelation. The wheelchairs swoop around the court in a Busby Berkley parody of athleticism, and the ball pops into the basket in clever mimicry of the coitus for which this is David's substitute.
And Victor? He is the picaro, the innocent who is always on the move, never comprehending the forces acting upon him, yet never defeated by those forces. His 'life on wheels' is the true life, in contrast with David's sterile life-in-death on wheels. Victor, alone of all the characters, grows because of his suffering. Franco's Spain was static, but Victor has broken free of that prison, and is dynamic. He moves. Thus is he the true victor.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
'Carne Trémula' is another good film from Spanish director Pedro
Almodóvar. It comes before his great films 'Todo Sobre Mi Madre' and
'Hable Con Ella', both more mature than his earlier films, and this
film is the beginning of the grown-up Almodóvar. It tells the story of
five people with lives that cross paths from time to time. The film
starts with Víctor (Liberto Rabal), who has fallen in love with a girl
he has only seen once. Her name is Elena (Francesca Neri). She does not
remember him, so when he shows up at her house she takes a gun and
forces him out of the place. He does not go and because the gun goes
off the police arrives a couple of minutes later. Two detectives
arrive, David (Javier Bardem) and Sancho (José Sancho). They have
issues, since Sancho's wife Clara (Ángela Molina) cheats on him,
probably with David. Sancho got in a struggle with Víctor, a gun goes
Four years later David, hit by the bullet, is in a wheelchair and married to Elena. Víctor is released from jail and he has not forgotten about the events years earlier. To tell you what happens would spoil a lot of things since Almodóvar is a master with surprises here. Even in single scenes he makes you think one thing is going to happen and the exact opposite does. It is kind of brilliant.
'Carne Trémula' is a film that plays with genres, like Almodóvar's earlier films such as 'Mujeres al Borde de un Ataque de Nervios' and 'Tacones Lejanos'. It is a comedy, a drama, a detective, a mystery, a romance. In some single scenes it also shows other genres. When the two detectives climb a stairs early in the film there is a typical film noir shot, with shadows and a certain camera movement. Things like this add a lot of fun to the film.
Besides this it is also a very well-acted film, especially by the very dependable Bardem. Alfonso Beato provides the film with a gorgeous cinematography and Alberto Iglesias, like always, comes with a score that is beautiful on its own, but also fitting the film in a perfect way. If you like Almodóvar you will definitely like this one, but even if you normally don't there is a good chance this will change your opinion.
Almodovar has always been the king of kitsch, the naughty, the pervert (who isn't anyway?), the generator of endless dirty language conversations, the good the bad and the ugly of the movie world. Well, he seems to have grown mature, but not tamed in that sense. He probably will be strongly criticized for the oral sex scene, on grounds that he is abusing disabled individuals, just like he was almost damned by feminists because of the looong rape scene in Kika. Well, although he seems to have moved away from his bright colors and chaotic chasing sequences, and although Live Flesh is to the best of my knowledge the first movie where he openly praises the post-Franco era, it was as tasteful as its predecessors. And who can build up such a web of events and relations better than Almodovar does, anyway?
Curious, seeing this after the smash hits of "Todo Sobre Mi Madre" and "Hable con Ella", because this movie sort of prepared the viewers to what was coming. Grabbing a solid and original story, Pedro Almodovar creates a movie that revolves around a strange set of characters, and on the process gives an excellent essay on the effect time has on people's lives. All the actors are top notch, specially the commanding Javier Bardem, who would later become an Oscar nominee with "Before Night Falls". Great music, cinematography and direction give this movie an even more satisfying look, and make this a well-achieved movie that ends up being the first part of an unofficial trilogy of Almodovar's best works.
If you intend to see such a film, I warn you that you should not miss any scene if you really want to understand its intelligently arranged plot. Sometimes I see Almodovar as a kind of Victor Hugo of cinema because he makes various complicated scenes not coherently inserted in the film that you should put in order step by step. May be in this way the excitement increases and you will be more anxious to know the end of the film. Javier Bardem (David) played the role of ex-agent and ex-basketball player who was shot in fact accidentally. The Italian actress Francesca Neri is David's wife, and young Liberto Rabal is Victor, the man supposedly spoiling the lives of others, and strong lover. Love and sex scenes of the film are intense as if they were real. The behavior of the actors and actresses in the film is convincingly human, i.e. people having their merits and shortcomings in their lives, there is no fictitious models of behavior. Almodovar, as usual, tries to reflect the reality. There are many good dramas in cinema but this one is probably one of the best.
Almodóvar seems to be following the rule-"Stick to one thing and
do it well." As usual he was able to create great characters
and involve good symbolism based on a story which is full of
ridiculously impossible coincidences and the sometimes
predictable, but always irrational behavior of the characters.
As in some of his other films, the story involves characters who seem to be completely led by fate and always bound to their destinies. Each of the characters goes through a radical transformation in a relatively short period of time. In the end, noone is innocent and all are victims, but there is a romantic hope for a brighter future and a new start at life.
I liked the new set of actors and actresses that were cast, and I would hope to see them cast differently in another film
Pedro Almodóvar changed the way of making cinema in Spain; and doing
it, he has impressed movie watchers around the world. You have seen his
movies; they are a mix of cruelty that includes honesty and passion.
Not honesty in Almodovar's characters, but in the way they are written,
showing a tough reality. About passion, well, it occupies a place in
every person, but is not always shown; Almodóvar takes care of that.
He introduces you to the characters in the story, then he starts to develop a plot that you're going to see, even if it is predictable. Víctor (Liberto Rabal) has lost, or not, his virginity with one woman (older than him). He's not an expert when it comes to casual sex, but she wants to see this woman again, and doesn't understand why she acts like she didn't care what happened. The thing is he doesn't know she does it every week. Then we see David (Javier Bardem) and Sancho (José Sancho) working in their car. They are cops. David is honest and professional, Sancho is alcoholic and incontrollable; his wife, Clara (Ángela Molina), cheats him with another man. Sancho loves her, but beats her and keeps her locked in the house. The one who connects them all is Elena. Víctor fights with her, the police arrives, someone is shot and we see a frame that shows the movie some years later.
The person who was shot is David, who walks (well, he doesn't walk) in a wheel-chair. David saved Elena's life; they're married. Víctor is getting out of jail; he shot David. Sancho is in the same situation with his wife. Now Víctor is angry, and plans his revenge; eventually he meets Clara, and follows Elena, and everything is connected again, until the end.
Javier Bardem is excellent as David. He can cry while he talks and convince you that he is suffering. He is the finest Spanish actor, and it was wonderful to see him fighting against his character's decisions to do the things he has to.
Francesca Neri didn't seem Spanish while I was watching the film. She isn't, but she has the looks of a "femme fatally", and that was perfect for her role, which connected everything and had the strongest lines.
José Sancho gives a good support as Sancho, reaching the extremes with his face. His character is doomed, because what happens to him now is not going to stop, and the worst part is that he knows it.
Ángela Molina doesn't have the chance to shine, but still does a decent work, with what she has got. She can't be having sex with one only man, and she shows it.
Liberto Rabal doesn't show much acting talent, he's not the mos experienced in the cast, but somehow, when he talks, he seems not right, but perfect, for his role. Listen to him at the end and you'll see.
Almovodar is gifted and he proves it in each frame of this tale. You need to look at every part of the shot to see the details he is giving to the piece. Look at the sexual scenes; the balance he achieves: it's not so strong, but not soft either. It's subtle. His way of directing the actors is amazing. He writes the movie, and knows it more than anyone, so you know he is there to tell the cast what to do, and help them obtain their amazing performances. It's a visual style with life of its own.
I said it. There's cruelty and honesty at the same time. There's passion. There's betrayal, lies, sex. You see it in the characters, in their words. When David arrives home and sees his wife Elena in bed, and starts to touch her; she doesn't like it. "What's the matter?", he asks. "It hurts", Elena answers. "Why?", he says. And with a face that involves everything I'm talking about, she looks at him: "Because I've been having sex all night"
an amazing film. unpredictable, even to a film junkie and his or hers thousand films. Pedro is a true storyteller.this film withstands numerous viewings.as always, Pedro's bright color schemes make this one(too) a visual delight
Almodovar at least does two things for me.
He touches on deep stuff without pretending that he has to do so in a story. Thus he avoids moralizing and is able to maintain all sorts of ambiguities and overlaps between different parts of the world. Oh, there's always a story, but they are so soap opera-ish and delivered so jauntily that they actually separate from the movie.
He does everything cinematically. He really has an eye that is a treasure. Every element of what we see, WE SEE. It isn't explained. It isn't in dialog that we happen to overhear, we see it. Not only does he use a cinematic vocabulary to deliver the main goods, but similar devices are used to show us that it is a layered structure.
He mixes television (in several modes), old movies, and out of body narrative. Often dreams and visions. Paintings, photographs and postcards and in this case an imagined ending (after "Taxi Drviver). Often one or more characters is a generator of public stories; here it is a wounded cop who becomes a wheelchair basketball star.
He's not my favorite Spaniard, and this isn't my most valued of his films. But its hard to better than any visit from Pedro.
Its an honestly vaginal world (with the connection among several layers being there) and I suppose therefore most women will actually think the story matters.
Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
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