Friday, January 12, 2007

Movie Review: Live Flesh 3 ½ Stars

Director Pedro Almodovar is known for his stylish, offbeat and sometimes offensive films like Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! and Kika. His films are commentaries on and satires of the relationship between sex, love, marriage and violence. They are also wildly melodramatic, but buoyed by camp humor and inventively erotic sex scenes.

Which is why Live Flesh is a conundrum. On one level, it shows Almodovar’s maturation as a filmmaker. He is now comfortable playing in the uncomfortable arena of obsessive sex, failed relationships and violence born of love without relying on the outrageous comic bits and visual frills for which he is known. But Live Flesh is still steeped in melodrama, veering dangerously close to soap opera.

What elevates Live Flesh from histrionics is the complexity of Live Flesh’s characters and their relationships to one another. Lovers, friends, rivals and spouses are shown defying all cliché; they are highly unconventional in the way they interact.

A web of synchronicities is spun after one fateful night in Madrid. Sexually-inexperienced Victor (Liberto Rabal) has fallen for a junkie, Elena (Francesca Neri), who took his virginity in a nightclub bathroom one week prior. Elena rebuffs Victor, not even remembering the encounter or the date she had apparently set with him. She brandishes a gun to scare him off, and when it accidentally goes off, the cops are called. Partners David (Javier Bardem) and Sancho (Jose Sancho) arrive on the scene and an injurious shot is fired that lands Victor in jail. With that bullet, a series of events is set in motion that, four years later, bring the characters—including Sancho’s wife Clara (Angela Molina)--together again, in adulterous and, ultimately, murderous circumstances.

However, as a thriller, Live Flesh isn’t about a crime. The real mystery is the characters’ motives, secret lives and hidden agendas in their relationships together as friends and lovers. And, to his credit, Almodovar never tries to solve the case. As the mystery unravels, it merely exposes the deeper enigma of love.

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