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Live Flesh

Movie Information

In Brief: Perhaps Pedro Almodóvar's most overlooked and underrated film, Live Flesh (1997) is also quite possibly one of his most personal works in that it uses its complex neo-noir storyline of infidelity, guilt, duplicity and mutual destruction to reflect upon both the Franco-controlled Spain into which he was born and the modern Spain in which he has been able to thrive. Moreover, it functions as something of a commentary on Almodóvar's films up to that point. Provocative and deeply satisfying.
Genre: Drama
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Starring: Javier Bardem, Francesca Neri, Liberto Rabal, Ángela Molina, José Sancho, Penélope Cruz
Rated: R

The last time I wrote about Live Flesh, I noted: “I first reviewed Live Flesh (1997) when Sony Classics released their Pedro Almodóvar retrospective, Viva Pedro, a couple years back. At that point, I gave it four-and-a-half stars and found it to be lesser, but still essential, Almodóvar. Seeing it again for this screening, I’m ready to give it the full five-star treatment — and wonder exactly why I thought it a lesser work. I can’t really answer that, but I no longer find anything lesser about it. Perhaps it’s simply one of those movies that gets better the more you know it. As for it being essential, I’m not sure there’s such a thing as an inessential Almodóvar picture.

Live Flesh is unusual in that it’s adapted from a novel by Ruth Rendell and is the only film for which Almodóvar has used collaborating writers. It’s probably not in the least surprising that the results still feel like pure Almodóvar since anything he touches becomes his own. In fact, the biggest difference lies in his depiction of a circle of life to mark the change from the repressive era of Franco’s Spain to the one that made Almodóvar and his films possible in the first place. The story is a kind of neo-noir thriller about a young man who goes to jail over a crime he really didn’t commit over a woman he’s still in love with years later. It’s told in purely Almodóvarian terms, which is to say that it’s full of wry humor, ridiculously melodramatic Spanish pop music, soap-opera twists, visual elegance, fully formed characters and a sense that the world is merely a reflection of — possibly even guided by — the pop culture that surrounds it. For example, Luis Buñuel’s 1955 Rehearsal for a Crime or The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz playing on a TV in the movie seems to dictate the action of the film. In an Almodóvar movie, that’s only reasonable.”

Watching the film again, I’m bound to say that it now strikes me that there are elements of earlier films — especially Matador (1986) with its inept, awkward, would-be rapist hero — and that the casting here (the only time Almodóvar has used him) of Liberto Rabal looks to me to be predicated on his resemblance to the young Antonio Banderas in that film, in Law of Desire (1987) and in his (then) Almodóvar swan song Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990). If you look at the photos in order, the first might almost be from Matador, the second virtually duplicates a scene from Law of Desire, while the third recalls Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!. (That Francesca Neri in the third still looks rather like David Bowie at the end of The Man Who Fell to Earth is another matter altogether.) In so doing, Almodóvar closes a chapter of his career — while preparing to open the next. It leaves me wondering if there aren’t deeper currents in the film that are yet to be explored.

The Asheville Film Society will screen Live Flesh Tuesday, Jan. 8 at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.


About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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