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Hit Me With Your Best Shot: "MATADOR"

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.

The title character trains new bullfighters in retirement.

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.



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Reader Comments (12)

I love the shot you chose - I nearly chose it myself! It's so shameless and feels like Almodovar was just having so much fun with it. That subsequent shot of them going down the stairs made me think of that similar shot in "I Am Love".

May 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobert

That does it. I'm going on a Amoldovar binge. There's no excuse for having missed any of his titles anymore. Even the ones like Matador that I don't much like, I love, if you follow me.

FYI: My post went up a little while ago.

May 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C

Michael -- i ABSOLUTELY follow. I don't even like Matador and yet I was just so wowed by his composition and nutso commitment. Plus I think he's actually the best director of erotic scenes in the world because unlike so many directors, he doesn't seem to approach sex scenes from only one P.O.V.which is to say that they don't feel beholden to gay or straight notions of what a sexy scene should look like.They're just beautiful and sexy and both the man and the woman always look sensational in them.

May 11, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Pretty good choice. I´m in love with Almodovar, with his universe, his movies... The only one I don´t like is Carne Trémula (Live Flesh?), I think it´s clear that movie wasn´t a personal choice, and Liberto Rabal is a really bad actor (at least Angela Molina and Jose Sancho are AMAZING, and the sex scene is beautifully shot). I love Matador, love the freudian references eros/thanatos, the way of dealing with the erotism of violence and the wonderful scene with the models.

But what I wanted to say is: I´m going to make a top ten of Almodovar´s next Thursday 19, day when La Piel Que Habito arrives at Cannes, and I´d love to know what your top ten would be like. I´m going to have a lot of trouble trying to put in order my seven favourites (seven!), this guy is a genius! And I´ve always thought: "wouldn´t it be great a ranking with Almodovar´s best musical moments?" Now that we are talking about Law of Desire, I particularly love the "Ne me quitte pas" moment in the theatre, and "Lo Dudo" at the end of the film. Maybe my favourite musical moments are both of High Heels, gorgeous and intense. Pure melodrama. Lynch and Almodovar are the greatest directors of musical moments (and of playback musical moments), they should make a musical each one! it would be amazing, definitely something I´d die to see!

May 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDeivith Coast

Deivith -- i can't even dream about an almodovar musical. Maybe i shouldn't. his musical moments within his non-musical word are magic enough. i've never done a whole top ten but watching Matador again made me angry all over again that i can't find some of his movies. I've yet to see all of them. I can't find Pepi Luci Bom. :( and Netflix doesn't have several of them either.

May 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Oh, that´s too bad, I wish I could help... I´ve got all of them, but now I´m not sure if they have English subtitles, if you wanted I could look for them in Madrid and send them to you, some of his first movies are great, and I know you´ll love them. Have you seen "¿Qué he hecho yo para merecer esto?" (maybe "What have I done to deserve this?"). And yes, his musical moments are magic.

May 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDeivith Coast

The three that are toughest to find here in the states are


but KIKA and TIE ME UP TIE ME DOWN which I have seen, seem kind of wierdly not avilable from most outlets. Bsically anything that is not part of the SONY PICTURES CLASSICS "Viva Pedro" set seems like it's gone out of print or something.

May 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Nice article, thanks for the information.

May 12, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersewa mobil

I’m really sorry to ask again, but do you have any idea when you will update the Oscar predictions, because I can’t wait. Hope it’s soon.

May 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVortep

I was in college when I decided to invite Lucía, a classmate I just met to skip classes and go see it with me opening day in a lazy afternoon. I was already a big fan of Almodóvar then but she was this shy akward girl who had never seen any of his movies. To my shock the film was so sexual and erotic that I felt gilty I dragged her along. She liked it though and we've been friends since. Nothing like a racy Almodóvar movie to break the ice.

My best shot would be Assumpta Serna's braid swinging like a bull's tail.

May 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSeisgrados

This was my first time watching Matador. Although it is a movie with a challenging theme, I found it truly entertaining (sans that first scene depicting the horrible killings). This is one of the best things of this series: it gives you a two fold opportunity; first, to catch up or re-watch great films, and second, to discuss them in a film community. Thanks!

May 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPedro

Pedro -- glad it's working that way for you.

Seisgrados -- great anecdote. i had two friends here in nyc who went and saw the new Pedro (i think it was all about my mother?) in spain before it opened here. They were vacationing and were in a movie mood. Neither of them spoke spanish and there were no subtitles and they loved it anyway! haha. That's how beautiful his images are.

May 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R
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