(In French, On TV, February 2018) Pedro Almodovar’s body of work (or at least the half-dozen films of his that I’ve seen) defy easy characterization: comedy, drama and thriller, all in the same films, all using refreshingly unfamiliar narrative structures … and seeing La piel que habito doesn’t help in clarifying things, as it blends mystery, horror and twisted romance in an occasionally-grotesque result. Knowing that it’s a twisted film, you can anticipate the worst once it becomes clear that the film is about a genius-level plastic surgeon, a captive woman and sombre disappearances in the back story. The film’s secrets are far wilder than most people would dare imagine. At that point, it becomes tricky to assess the film fairly: it’s certainly odd and well executed, but is it good? It’s certainly unpleasant, but was it worth watching? Almodovar fans will be best placed to answer these questions for themselves. In the meantime, there’s a good performance here from Antonio Banderas, some clever directing and a script that doesn’t spoon-feed some extreme material. It’s certainly not for weak stomachs—the blood alone is bad enough, but the themes are even worse.
(Netflix Streaming, July 2017) I’m not overly fond of Pedro Amodovar’s movies, but I have to recognize that he’s very good at what he does. He’s able to use melodramatic elements without necessarily feeling exploitative, and as Todo Sobre Mi Madre shows, he’s unusually skilled at presenting female characters. There’s also a welcome unpredictability to his work, especially compared to mainstream American releases—it’s never too clear where things are going, and characters are often killed mercilessly. It’s a different viewing experience and should be approached as such. Alas, a number of things limit my enthusiasm for the result. The pacing is often weird (at times too slow, at times too abrupt when something significant occurs), the meaningful references to other works are numerous and there’s no telling whether the film’s Spanish origins is, in itself, a distancing factor. As I’ve said, my appreciation for the kind of film that is Todo Sobre Mi Madre is limited, but even I have to admit that the result is well-crafted.
(In Spanish with French Subtitles, On TV, May 2017) I don’t like Pedro Almodovar’s work quite as much as most movie critics, but I will, at least, grant that his movies are quite unlike anyone else’s. They don’t stick to the formula, they’re willing to portray quirky characters undergoing unimaginable trauma, and they readily reach for uncomfortable situations that would feel extreme in other contexts. Trying to give a plot summary of Carne Trémula to someone used to the standard Hollywood three-act structure would earn wary stares and audible derision. Even while watching the film, it’s sometimes hard to avoid a few well-placed “Oh, come on!” But there are rewards to the whole mess, and it’s a kind of experience that’s strange and universal at once, with actors going far beyond what is expected of them in more ordinary cinema. Javier Bardem is very good here in an early role, which Penelope Cruz gets a small but merciless role. Less familiar actresses such as Francesca Neri and Angela Molina also get good parts to play in a small but intense cast of characters improbably linked together. The film’s Madrid backdrop is unusual but does not obscure common themes. I don’t think anyone will be comforted or conventionally entertained by Carne Trémula … but it’s certainly, like most of Almodovar’s movies, a memorable experience.
(In French, On Cable TV, February 2017) If ever you wake up one morning and feel that cinema is too boring, to rote, too safe for you, then have a look at Pedro Almodóvar’s Hable con Ella. Strange and off-beat and surreal in ways that can’t even be described in a capsule review, it’s a film about death, life, obsession, accusations, two women in coma, the men who care for them and an outrageous dream sequence. Good performances by the lead actors complement Almodóvar’s unusual script and direction. It doesn’t deal with the usual topics, and certainly doesn’t deal with them in the usual way. Good, great, bad, boring—I’m still not too sure how best to describe Hable con Ella, but it’s certainly memorable.