100 Years of Movies

100 Years of Movies
One cinephile's chronological journey through a century of film...

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Not So Secret Santa Review Swap - Live Flesh (1997)

As long time readers know, I'm a "director" guy. When I find a director that I like, I will follow their filmography from the Oscar-buzzy to the Razzie-worthy.  The rest of you can have your actors.  I'll go directors every time.

Which isn't to say I don't have director blind spots.  I've only seen 1 percent of Woody Allen's output (and that's likely with rounding).  I have barely touched Billy Wilder's oeuvre.  It's not that I do not want to; I just have not gotten around to it yet.

That's my long way of introducing the fact that Pedro Almodóvar has been criminally ignored by me.  He's a director I've wanted to catch up with, but have just never found the time.

Which is why I loved seeing that Live Flesh was the film I was gifted in The CK's Not So Secret Santa Review Swap.

Live Flesh is one of Pedro Almodóvar early directing efforts. It follows a man named Victor, a naive pizza delivery man who tries to follow up with Elena a girl he met the previous weekend.  She was high and doesn't remember him.  They argue.  The police are called.

Two detectives, David and Sancho, are dispatched to the scene to find Victor has taken Elena's gun and is now holding her hostage to escape the situation.  The younger David seems to have successfully defused the situation when Sancho suddenly pounces on Victor.  They wrestle for the gun.  A shot rings out.  David goes down.

Fast forward four years. David, paralyzed from the waist down, is a professional wheelchair basketball player and has married Elena.  For her part, the former party girl Elena now runs a children's shelter. And Sancho, who had been suspicious that someone was sleeping with his wife Clara when last we saw him, seems to be in a better place in his relationship (minus the occasional domestic abuse).

Into all of this reemerges Victor, recently released from prison.  His deceased mother has left him a dilapidated house.  He goes to the cemetery to pay his respects and bumps into Elena.  

And from there, one of the more bizarre "revenge" plots I have seen begins to unfold.

There's a lot of story and plot contrivance here (professional wheelchair basketball player with his own billboard?), but you hardly notice because of the strong character work. Javier Bardem plays David in the film and exhibits all of the qualities we love him for.  He seems to effortlessly turn from charming to authoritative to caring to menacing throughout.  You never doubt for a moment that Bardem is paralyzed.

I love the slow turn the plot makes as protagonists and antagonists switch from scene to scene.  The character arcs oddly reminded me of the film The Good, the Bad and the Ugly with the three male characters nicely fitting the archetypes established in that film.

I'm thrilled to have seen Live Flesh and very appreciative of my "gift." If this is lesser
Almodóvar I cannot wait to see what else he has to offer.