Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A Short Tribute To Almodovar's Live Flesh

Pedro Almodovar has been on such a role in the past decade that it is easy to forget that just ten years ago many were concerned his best work was behind him. After 1990's controversial TIE ME UP TIE ME DOWN, Almodovar directed series of films that would test his audiences and critics. While HIGH HEELS (1991), KIKA (1993) and THE FLOWER OF MY SECRET (1995) are all valuable works, they didn't compare to earlier masterpieces like DARK HABITS (1983), MATADOR (1986) and WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN (1988). It was hard to not feel like the great Spanish maverick was slipping a bit, but all that changed with the release of 1997's LIVE FLESH.
LIVE FLESH (CARNE TREMULA) was the first Almodovar film I ever got to see in a theater, so it will always be a special one to me. I had appreciated his work before but seeing it on a big screen was a shockingly great experience, and my old VHS copies suddenly felt overwhelmingly inadequate. Thankfully the last ten years haven't just seen Pedro's critical status rise again, but it also seen the American home video market catch up as well.
LIVE FLESH is one of Almodovar's great works, but I don't often see it included as such. His films since have been so incredibly masterful that they have made it become a bit lost in the shuffle. I continue to find the film among his most haunting and resonate, with most of his major thematic obsessions in full glorious force. LIVE FLESH is also one of the best cast films of the great man's career, featuring Javier Bardem, Angela Molina, Penelope Cruz, Liberto Rabal, and one of the great beauties of modern cinema, Francesca Neri. LIVE FLESH is a prefect introduction to the wonderful world of Pedro Almodovar, and ten years later it is still as fresh and alive as ever.
Featuring the absolute gorgeous photography of award winning Affonso Beato and a lovely score by Alberto Iglesias, LIVE FLESH is one of the most beautiful looking and sounding productions Almodovar has ever mounted. It is also one of the most thematically complex with its multi-level interconnected story lines. Working from a Ruth Rendell novel, Almodovar weaves a perfectly connected tale of love, obsession, desire and revenge that is among the best films of the nineties.

Key to the success of LIVE FLESH is the idea of freedom; political freedom, freedom of the body and finally the spirit. Of course freedom is a key to many of the great Spanish films that came after Franco's dictatorship. None have been quite as poetic in their explorations of it as Almodovar though, and LIVE FLESH is one of his most potent. Anyone who hasn't given the film a look, or just hasn't revisited it recently, should.
LIVE FLESH is currently available in the fantastic VIVA PEDRO collection, which collects some of his greatest films and has some fascinating extras. LIVE FLESH is unfortunately bare bones but the print of it looks fantastic. (Fans of TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD should pay particular attention to a glorious screaming close up of Neri at the end of this film, as they will surely recognize it) While the box retails for near ninety dollars, members of Columbia House should take note that they have had it mis-priced at only twenty dollars since it was first released.
I'm not sure if LIVE FLESH has ever completely gotten its due or not. It is a key work in Almodovar's canon, and I just wanted to pay a brief tribute to it on its tenth anniversary.


scott said...

LIVE FLESH, I too saw it in the cinema and enjoyed it - but never felt that close to this one. I like Bardem and Neri alot as well. I had seen them both in THE AGES OF LULU around that time on vhs so I was particularly amped to see LIVE FLESH. I think I felt alot closer to all of the older Almodovar movies, but it seemed something changed with THE FLOWER OF MY SECRET. I absolutely loved HIGH HEELS and KIKA though.

scott said...

.. oh, I never saw VOLVER though. I am looking forwrad to seeing him working with carmen maura after so many years apart. I am hoping for another film pairing him with victoria abril again.

Steve Langton said...

Been a few years since I saw LIVE FLESH, and will make an effort to see it soon after reading your piece. I think his films since FLESH have been the work of an absolute master: ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER, BAD EDUCATION, TALK TO HER and I hope you get to see VOLVER soon, Scott. It's a joy!

Rogue Spy 007 said...

I haven't seen Live Flesh in awhile. I love the films of Almodovar. What a genius. I do think that at first it seemed like he might have lost his touch after some of his earlier masterpieces. I've really enjoyed some of his more recent films such as Bad Education and Volver. Plus I love Penelope Cruz. :-) Great blog.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Scott,
I love AGES OF LULU. Neri is so underrated and I wish she was in more films...she is incredible in LULU. Also, didn't mean to slight HIGH HEELS and KIKA as I love both of them...VOLVER is great, give it a look if you can. How awesome would it be to get him and Abril together again???

Thanks also Steve...I totally agree about him being an absolute master. The guy is one of the greats.

Thanks Keith,
Wasn't Cruz astonishing in VOLVER? It was so great seeing her return to Spanish cinema with such a masterful performance...

thanks for all the comments...