Tonight Arthur and I will go see Pedro Almodóvar's Matador. It will end a two-week series of his films that we have been attending at the Castro Theater in San Francisco. There is only one other film director that engages me as much as Almodóvar, and that is Krzysztof Kieslowski, creator of Bleu, Blanc, and Rouge, however he will have to wait for a later date to get his write-up from me. Right now it is Almodóvar on my mind. I suspect this re-release is to get us all excited about the release of Volver, his new film.
The films are like butter, rich and full of taste and sensation. Like Passolini, Almodóvar seems to exult in the human face or perhaps I just appreciate his esthetic. I am thinking chiefly of Rossy de Palma ("crab face" in La flor de mi secreto), Julieta Serrano (Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios), Gael Garcia Bernal (La mala educación), and Javier Camara, Dario Grandinetti, and Rosario Flores (Hable con ella). Unlike Passolini, where the faces were totally "out of the norm", Almodóvar's faces are arresting and attractive, but clearly set apart. It is a strong esthetic that binds these films.
In "Talk to Her", there is a remarkable scene shot from above, in which a male swimmer swims underwater in a blue-tiled pool. We watch him move gracefully through the length of the blue water only to see him rise up out of the pool at the end and smile at the audience. It is a scene that is repeated in "Bad Education" when Juan/Angel swims the length of Enrique's pool. The scene in "Talk to Her" is gratuitous there for the sheer beauty of the man. The scene repeated in "Bad Education" has purpose as Juan/Angel swims just under the surface of things, and is indeed shot again standing in the pool, under the water, while Enrique sits above, fully in the mix of things.
Another part of the esthetic is the sound. In "Talk to Her", Lydia, the bullfighter puts on her costume for the corrida. The audience is surrounded by the sound of silk stockings being pulled on, or of buttons being hooked on the torreador's jacket, or, in the hospital, the sound of a sponge bath. In "The Flower of My Secret", it is the sight and sound of lace being made, with bobbins clacking and thread being pulled. In "Bad Education" it is the swish of fabric as cassocks, albs, cinctures, and amices are removed in the sacristy, or the sounds of paper, leather, and plastic as "Zahora" examines the wallet of "Enrique". I am taken by this "noise", found in any film, because it is one of the ingredients of memory. And it is the memories that form the focus for many of the films' chief elements.
There is also music and dance. The dances by Pina Bauche in "Talk to Her", along with the wonderful song sung in the pavilion, the song that makes Marcos cry. In "Bad Education" we are treated to a Kyrie Eleison, that forms a leitmotif to the rippling evil unveiled in the course of the story. The hymn almost serves as a background prayer that comes out habit, sincere desire, and desperation. In "The Flower of My Secret", village women sing as they make their lace. They sing a song held only in their memories commonly held in their memories as a mark of their belonging in that place.
These films revolve around human situations: relationship, communication, desire, and "not knowing". These human situations are stimulated, obstructed, and guided by Almodóvar's institutions that are catalysts to the story: the Church, homosexuality, feminism, and "art". They are the heaven and hell of his own story, I suspect, and happy for us, he guides us into an understanding of these things. True friendship is so beautifully told in "Talk to Her", as the story of Benigno and Marcos unfolds. In "La ley del deseo" we see the naiveté of belief in the prayers of Tina and her roommates daughter, who supplicate the Virgin at an altar in their home. This same altar erupts into a virtual Purgatory that forms the background to a pieta of Pablo holding the body of his would be lover, Antonio. Established religion really takes it in the ear when in "Bad Education" we see the evil ripples of Fr. Manolo tear apart the life of his beloved student Ignacio, and move from this to destroy Ignacio's brother Juan/Angel, Enrique, his first love, and Fr. Manolo himself.
I leave these films wondering and connecting. As someone who loves symbol, I try to read all the symbols that seem to abound in these films, and wonder about what they really mean. I rejoice in all the characters, and walk a bit in their shoes. I delight in the score and in the visuals. Being a lover of Gaudi and Zurburan, there is both darkness and a riot of color and emotion about these films that touch life in a knowing and courageous way. These are films that in spite of their exaggeration are about real life, lives that are often hidden away in dark recesses of memory and regret. But then again, some of them are just delightfully silly, a welcome addition to my life.
After I wrote this, we attended Matador, the earliest of the movies in the re-release series. Arthur anticipated that it would be dark, and he was not wrong. This is a film about innocence and passion. The innocence of Angel is more like a pure white tablet that has evil things engraved upon it. We believe several things about the innocence of Angel - we disbelieve it because of the attempted rape of Eva (get all these names!?), and because of his "confession" (not to a priest, but to a police detective) of other killings as well. Unbelieved by mother, and priest, it is the replacement institutions to the Church that see what Angel really is - an empath. Psychiatry, Law, Police - all see his innocence. The imprints of evil come from the Passion about Death under the skin of his Maestro Diego and his attorney. These both are pulled to death and sex (or as the French would say it, la petit mort. Almadovar would have us wallow in miserable things, but not as miserable as his later concoction of Bad Education.
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