Sunday, November 08, 2009

Almodovar's "Carne tremula" (1997) or "Live Flesh"

This may be my favorite Almodovar so far. "Live Flesh" may not be as haunting as "Talk to Her" or as moving as "Volver" but it is an idea perfectly executed. No self-indulgent bulges nor forced shortcuts, it is as well-proportioned as its dishy lead Victor Plaza (Liberto Rabal). Love and its obsessions play out with formal symmetry among two married couples and an outsider.

Elena (the very beautiful Francesca Neri) and David (Javier Bardem) are married, but Victor loves Elena. Sancho (Jose Sancho) and Clara (Angela Molina) are married, but David had an affair with Clara, and she has now fallen for Victor. After learning of David's affair with Clara, Elena made love to Victor. David wants to use Sancho to kill Victor, but finds out, from Victor, that Sancho, having found out about David's affair with Clara, fired the gun in Victor's hand at David and crippled him. David goes ahead to tell Sancho of Clara's affair with Victor. When Sancho tries to kill Victor, Clara kills Sancho and is killed in turn. David goes to Miami in remorse, and Victor wins Elena in the end. A plot summary like this one can only hint at the complications, but cannot convey the stylishness of the film-making.

Javier Bardem, who played the mad man in "No Country for Old Men," is frightening in his intensity even in this melodrama. Wheelchair-bound, his rage is only heightened by his restraints. Liberto Rabal is completely likeable as the young innocent who finally gets what he wants. Neri brings a heartbreaking vulnerability to her role, but the most sympathetic character is played by Molina. Abused by her jealous husband, used by her lover for his sexual education, Clara loves helplessly and hopelessly. When Victor turns her away, she cries the outcry of the damned, "But I have enough love for the two of us."

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