The earliest film in the Viva Pedro! series, Matador (1986) is also one of his strangest concoctions. Mixing just about every genre imaginable, Almodovar here serves up a bleakly comic tale of voyeurism, rape (well, borderline), murder, religious fanaticism, death fixations, clairvoyance and just about anything else that crosses his mind. Needless to say, it’s about as far from family fare as it’s possible to get.
The storylines involve a repressed young man, Angel (Antonio Banderas), who is training to be a bullfighter; his teacher, Diego (Nacho Martinez), a former matador who has been reduced to teaching after a disabling goring; Diego’s girlfriend (and Angel’s neighbor), Eva (Eva Cobo); and a high-powered lawyer, Maria (Assumpta Serna), who has a fixation on Diego.
The product of a strict religious upbringing by his fanatical mother (Julieta Serrano), Angel is not a good candidate for bullfighting since he faints at the sight of blood, but his reasons for trying to be one seem, in any case, more grounded in his desire to be like Diego. To this end, he decides to rape Diego’s girlfriend Eva — a drastic move that he’s essentially too inept to pull off, but one that sets the story in motion, since his well-developed capacity for guilt prompts him to confess his crime to the police. When Eva and her mother refuse to press charges (the whole thing seems a minor annoyance to them), Angel, in need of some kind of expiation, confesses to a series of murders he didn’t commit, but to which he is closer than he perhaps realizes — or that he may have tapped into by his clairvoyant abilities.
The results are a richly detailed, physically gorgeous movie (Almodovar’s most professional-looking work to that time) that almost has too much on its mind. The ending of the film doesn’t quite work. It feels rushed and too small for the grandeur of the twisted passions that precede it. But Almodovar is such a playful and creative filmmaker (who else would have everyone — each completely equipped with bits of smoked glass — stop in their tracks to look at a solar eclipse in the midst of a life-or-death pursuit?) that it’s easy to forgive the ending. (Watch for Almodovar himself in a bit part as a fussy director, who blandly assures a model who has just been puked on that it looks good on her.)