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Live Flesh (1997, Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz)

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An original, funny and intimate tragicomedy from the master of bizarre characterisations, Live Flesh (Carne trémula) was made in between Flower of My Secret and All About My Mother and contains some equally wild and barely believable situations. Barely believable that is until they are put into the hands of a director who could make an orgy in a convent appear as warm and sincere.

Victor Plaza (Liberto Ribal) is born on a bus in Franco’s Madrid in 1970. 20 years later, with Spain now free of the oppressive dictator, Víctor is trying to relive his first sexual encounter with independent spirit, Elena (Francesca Neri), the girl who divested him of his virginity, but she’s having none of it. Elena, the daughter of a rich Italian diplomat and a drug addict, is waiting for her dealer to arrive but Víctor manages to enter her apartment and, in the ensuing tussle, the police are called. David (Javier Bardem) is cool and intelligent while his partner, Sancho (Jose Sancho) is a hot-headed alcoholic. Without really knowing what has happened guns go off…

Four years later, Víctor is released from jail, David is in a wheelchair, winning a gold medal in basketball at the paraplegic Olympics being supported by his wife, Elena, and Sancho is in a disintegrating marriage with David’s one-time lover. Such mixed up relationships and situations are archetypal Almodóvar and the director doesn’t fail to deliver a series of bizarre coincidences and happenings.

Víctor has spent his time in prison becoming angry at the hand fate has dealt him and aims to redress some of those wrongs on his release. After visiting his mother’s grave on the day he is set free, Víctor meets and embarks on a relationship with neighbour, Clara (Ángela Molina), who just happens to be Sancho’s wife. But Víctor is still infatuated with his first love, Elena…

Combining soap opera, absurdity and homages to the great Spanish filmmaker, Luis Buñuel, Almodóvar uses the backdrop of Spain’s release from the grip of a tyrant to paint a wild and colourful panorama of human emotion and frailty with a dose of comedy and a heavy pinch of sensuality. With irreverent political commentary and noirish fatalism Live Flesh is vibrant, exotic, evocative and extraordinary.

Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Writers: Pedro Almodóvar, Jorge Guerricaechevarría

production details
Spain | 103 minutes | 1997
cast
Liberto Rabal as Víctor Plaza
Francesca Neri as Elena
Javier Bardem as David
Penélope Cruz as Isabel Plaza Caballero
Ángela Molina as Clara
José Sancho as Sancho
Pilar Bardem as Doña Centro de Mesa
Alex Angulo as Bus Driver
Mariola Fuentes as Clementina
Yael Be as Chica
Josep Molins as Josep
Daniel Lanchas as Driver
María Rosenfeldt as Niña
Antonio Henares as Basketball Player
Diego de Paz as Basketball Player
Emilio Rodríguez as Basketball Player