Our first seduction begins approximately three minutes into the film, as a blind writer named Harry Caine (Lluís Homar) beds down a young, beautiful woman who helped him across the street. Though, technically, they have sex on his couch. There is certainly a lot of sex, implied or otherwise in Almodóvar, but here, more often than not, it is on just such a couch, or wrapped up in a sheet, as if the act itself wasn’t worth our attention. That is, except for the whirly-gig runaround we see in flashback as Mateo has with Lena (Penelope Cruz), the leading woman in the film he was directing years before.
As with other Almodóvar stand-outs, the plot of his new film is a tangled affair, involving numerous side characters and multiple time frames. Essentially, it boils down to this: Harry Caine is the assumed ‘identity’ Mateo Blanco took after his affair with Lena ended tragically. She was the mistress of Ernesto Martel (José Luis Gómez), a very wealthy and powerful man who was thoroughly besotted by her and jealously destroyed Mateo’s film with her as an act of revenge. Years later, Caine and his assistant, Judit (Blanca Portillo) and her son, Diego (Tamar Novas), are suddenly reacquainted with Martel’s bitter son, now know as Ray X (Rubén Ochandiano), who wants to write a new film with Caine about his father’s evilness.
Even for Almodóvar, there are a vast number of narrative balls kept in the air, including scenes from the film Mateo shot so many years before. Since turning away from the screwball sex comedies that made him famous in his native Spain, Almodóvar has honed in closer and closer to the kind of meta narratives of some of his fellow auteurs — following in the considerable footsteps of Fellini, one might say. He is surprisingly light on his feet, but the film still feels a bit too stilted and foretold to have the impact he seems to think it should generate. Despite exceptional performances from Cruz and Homar, the stodginess of the melodramatic form that Almodóvar has had so much fun tweaking over the years still has too strong a hold on his artistic sensibilities.
This beautiful BD transfer is also studded with several bonus features, including deleted scenes, a Q & A with Cruz, a featurette on the artistic collaboration of Almodovar and his glamorous leading lady, and “La Concejala Antropófaga,” an original short from the director.
Piers Marchant is a Philly-based writer and editor, and the EIC (and film critic) for two.one.five magazine (215mag.com). His reviews can be found on 215mag.com and his tumblr blog, Sweet Smell of Success. You can also follow him on twitter @kafkaesque83.