Pedro Almodovar's transformation from scrappy, epater le bourgeois rude boy into sophisticated interpreter of modern melodramas is remarkable, all the more so because he retained his anarchic energy and gleeful willingness to affront conventional mores. This ode to the peculiar strength and flexibility of love, romantic and platonic, is simultaneously perverse, overwrought, deeply creepy and truly moving, a high-wire act that finds humor in the grotesque and hope in emotional malformation. Benigno (Javier Camara) and Marco (Dario Grandinetti) are introduced watching a dance performance; each is alone and deeply moved by German choreographer Pina Bausch's nerve-wracking pas de trois for two blind women and the man who moves obstacles from their paths. The plump, slightly effeminate Benigno is devoted to Alicia (Leonor Watling), an aspiring dancer who was struck by a car four years earlier and now languishes in a coma. A private nurse retained by Alicia's father, Benigno was, before the accident, the most diffident of stalkers, watching from his window as Alicia took dance classes and dreaming of getting to know her. Journalist Marco, meanwhile, spots fiery matador Lydia (Rosario Flores), a rarity in the macho world of bullfighting, on a talk show and is besotted. He tries to get an interview and she refuses — reporters want her to tell all about her recent break up with fellow matador Nino de Valencia (Adolfo Fernandez) — but Marco lends an opportune hand and a sympathetic ear, and they become a couple. It appears that Marco may finally leave behind the torturous relationship with a high-strung drug addict that dominated 10 years of his life. Then Lydia is gored in the ring; comatose, she's moved to the same facility where Alicia lies. Benigno and Marco strike up a wary friendship rooted in circumstance: Marco hopes Benigno can help him sort through his desperate, conflicted emotions while Benigno needs a confidante who understands his one-sided relationship with Alicia. Neither is actually what the other wants, but a connection takes root anyway. The film is a study in ironies, without being "ironic" in the cheap, popular sense. It could be taken as a joke that Benigno and Marco get along better with their comatose girlfriends than they ever did when the women were awake. But it's a resigned joke, tossed off so lightly that the sting is easily missed, and ultimately untrue as well — one man profoundly betrays his sleeping beauty, and the other is betrayed. Almodovar's depiction of life with the profoundly compromised — the endless rituals of grooming, washing, turning to prevent bedsores, massage to keep the skin supple, manipulation of limbs to keep muscles from atrophying and joints locking — is simultaneously intimate and dispassionate, and he displaces the story's most disturbing turn into a silent film-within-the-film called "The Shrinking Lover," in which a Buster Keaton-esque man about town quaffs his brainy girlfriend's revolutionary weight-loss potion, only to shrink to the size of a Ken doll. His transformation of adversity into bizarrely liberating fantasy mirrors the dazzling achievement of Almodovar's slyly compassionate film.
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- Released: 2002
- Rating: R
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- Review: Pedro Almodovar's transformation from scrappy, epater le bourgeois rude boy into sophisticated interpreter of modern melodramas is remarkable, all the more so because he retained his anarchic energy and gleeful willingness to affront conventional mores. Th… (more)