In the Hit Me With Your Best Shot Wednesday evening series we look at a pre-selected movie and choose what we each think of as its best shot. Anyone can play and we link up. (Links and next week's topic are at the end of the post.) This week, to coincide with the opening of the Cannes film festival we thought we'd look at the one (or two) of the earliest Pedro Almodóvar / Antonio Banderas collaborations since the men are reuniting at Cannes to show off their first collaboration in two decades, The Skin I Live In (2011). I gave participants the option of either Matador (1986) or Law of Desire (1987) the films which elevated Banderas to Pedro Muse status, the only actor with a penis to hold that honor.
While Law of Desire (1987) is my all-time favorite Pedro, I chose to rescreen Matador (1986). Why? I thought this absurdist mystery about men and women who think of killing as an art form, might prove a fine companion piece to the director and star's new film, given the similarly violent and grotesque subject matter.
So did I change my mind about Matador, my least favorite from my very favorite auteur? The answer is both No and Yes.
The opening credits of Matador seem to be challenging the audience to throw tomatoes and openly hate the movie as the title character, a retired matador named Diego (Nacho Martinez) masturbates to images of extreme violence against women. Moments later we see an explicit sex scene turn murderous. This time the corpse will be a man. All moviegoers have different levels of stamina with explicit material and I have the opposite constitution from the MPAA. Which is to say that I'm totally fine with sexually graphic imagery but I have a hard time watching people be brutalized. Pedro, a subversive artist and equal opportunity offender, is still working his way out of his "shock" phase. It's definitely a confrontational first reel but the rest of the film is much easier to watch.
The thing I forgot about Matador (I haven't seen it since... 1990?) is how completely erotic it is. Yes, all of the characters are either killers or caught up in the drama of death, but they're all horny about it. Even the characters who have no sex scenes are obviously having them in their minds. Almodóvar even interrupts the murder investigation for a hilariously lengthy amount of time so that the detective (Eusebio Poncela) can stare at the crotches of all the bullfighters. Pedro also has fun skewering psychiatry by making the therapist (Carmen Maura) completely handsy and horny for the confessed killer (Banderas) she's treating.
Take this early introduction of Angel (Banderas) and the detective (Poncela). Angel has come to the police station to confess a crime but the cinematic language is totally cruisey what with its traded stares, coy sudden glances away and then the seemingly telepathic agreement to meet. The men then walk parallel toward the doorway, trying not to stare at each other. Bear in mind that they've never met, sex is not on the agenda, and the detective actually has no idea why this other man is even there.
It's like Almodóvar is already prepping the audience for Law of Desire when these same two actors will be fucking with abandon. But what's more interesting is that the transparency of the glass makes their images merge as they begin to walk towards the door in unison, really nifty foreshadowing of the headspace that Angel is occupying for the whole movie (namely other people's). It's a hard thing to explain if you haven't seen the movie. Almodóvar deigns NOT to explain it, even once you've pieced it together for yourself.
But the best shot, the one that expertly conveys how much naughty fun that Almodóvar seems to be having with his gross movie, is this throwaway bit when the Matador's lover Eva (Eva Gobo), all decked out in a flowing red cape (get it?), tries to confront his other woman, María (Assumpta Serna). Evil María slams the gate closed on Eva, turning the younger woman into some sort of weird masked animal (she even refers to the younger woman as being "a different species") before slamming the door shut on her completely negating her.
You're going to him, you bitch!
It's such a fast and literally in-your-face bit, that it's both funny and crude with nihilism; for a brief moment you can't help but key in to the movie's bizarre morbid headspace, as destructive as María's.
The follow up shot is just as good as María, a very dangerous animal indeed, seems unable to look away while her rival circles down the stairs surrounding the elevator, red cape billowing up behind her. I still don't love Matador but Almodóvar sure can sell his imagery and marry it to his material with great wit and style.
8 other Pedro-Watching Blogs. Woohoo
- Antagony & Ecstasy ~Almodóvar's unparalleled gifts with color and the wide shot.
- Serious Film ~Gobsmacked by the strangeness of Matador, and Pedro's confidence
- Ahora ~ terrific double feature: self-cleansing in Law of Desire, bullishness in Matador
- His Eyes Were Watching Movies ~ On Matador's feminine and masculine mirrors (and voyeurism)
- Film Actually ~ on Law of Desire "Don't be shy: hose me down!"
- Awwww, The Movies ~ The Matador's Swagga and Law of Desire's paintings. These movies are so beautiful.
- Movies Kick Ass ~ Jose loves Pedro's transgressive pietà in Law of Desire
- Pussy Goes Grrr ~ a close up so tight, it's almost abstract.
Next Wednesday: Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) in honor of Maureen O'Sullivan's Centennial. It's short and fun and historically significant (kick off to the very healthy Weismuller/Sullivan Tarzan years) so join us with a blogpost, twitpic, tumblr and the like. We'd love to welcome you to that jungle.