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Thursday, June 15, 2017

Pedro Almodóvar | Matador


return to sender
by Douglas Messerli

Pedro Almodóvar and Jesús Ferrero (screenplay), Pedro Almodóvar (director) Matador / 1986

It’s difficult to know what to make of Pedro Almodóvar’s 1986 film, Matador. Like most of his films, it is quite beautifully filmed and contains an excellent cast, Assumpta Serna, Antonio Banderas, and Nacho Martínez in particular.

      Yet somewhere along the way the script went terrible awry. What does a former matador, Diego Montes (Martínez) retired by a bull goring, and who now is apparently addicted to slash films, really have to do with the beautiful, slightly deluded young man, Ángel Jiménez (Banderas), who suffers from vertigo (so we’re told), and who faints at the sight of blood? The plot stipulates that Ángel is studying bull-fighting with Montes, but given his seemingly sweet nature and the fact, as Montes suspects, that he is probably gay, it seems a kind of ridiculous set-up, particularly when, after Montes’ questions his sexuality, Ángel goes on to prove his masculinity by raping Montes’ girlfriend Eva (Eva Cobo), who seems so little troubled by the event (the young boy evidently ejaculated between her legs before he could even penetrate her) that she doesn’t even bother to report it to the police.

      Clearly, given the fact that she is involved with Montes suggests she is in to far more kinky sex—seemingly reconfirmed in a kind of vertigo-inspired vision that Ángel has where a woman removes a large hair-pin from her hair and stabs to death a man with whom she is having sex, placing it in the very way a matador does in killing a bull, between the shoulder blades at the base of the neck.

       Even more oddly, the would-be rapist, instead of confessing his crime to a priest, is more interested in reporting it to the police, along with several other murders of young women and men. More strangely yet, the police detective (Eusebio Poncela )does not really believe him, nor does Ángel’s  lawyer María Cardenal (Serna), who apparently has taken on the boy’s case simply to get closer to her long ago idol, Montes. How does Ángel, moreover, know where to find the bodies—behind Montes’ house? How could have he buried them there without the matador’s knowledge? And how might it have committed these brutal acts given the fact he faints at the sight of blood?

     If I’ve confused you, so too does the film confuse the viewer. And such questions spiral down into the movie’s conclusion itself. Why does Eva want Montes back, even after she overhears a conversation that makes it apparent that it is the matador who has murdered the victims? Also knowing that truth, María, moreover, carries out the murder by hair-pin that we saw the film’s start, putting a bullet into her own head. Ah, yes, observes the detective, he has never seen a happier-looking couple.

     By the end of this silly rambling narrative we’ve lost Ángel, the reason for the scene with his dominating mother, and the logic of all the other characters’ motives. In the end, Matador seems to simply be a stylish dance of death, a kind of art-house slash film without any real sex. I suppose we’re supposed to conclude that bull-fighting itself is a sort of ritualistic death dance, the beast itself the apparent object of the matador’s love. But I do have the feeling that all of this has long ago been far better expressed. Even the dense-minded, homophobic Hemingway seemed to have caught on to that fact.

     Apparently Almodóvar himself didn’t know what to think of flick, describing the work in a book about his filmmaking as among his two biggest failures. The moment the closing credits turned to black, I slipped the disk quickly out of my player, stuffed it into its envelope and speedily returned it to the sender.

Los Angeles, June 15, 2017

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