Those familiar with the work of director Pedro Almodóvar will know that his films tend to be considered Art, with a capital A, especially these days. All About My Mother won the best foreign film Oscar a few years back. Almodóvar is notorious for writing strong roles for women.
None of this should scare you away from Live Flesh. While there is plenty of eccentricity on display, the plot is reasonably straightforward, with few digressions taken simply for the sake of being wacky. Part of the reason for the relatively streamlined plot may be that the screenplay is taken from a crime novel by Ruth Rendell, unread by me. I have read other Ruth Rendell novels however, and there is no doubt that Almodóvar has tailored the material to his tastes. Although no end of tawdry events take place, the end result is strangely tender and affectionate.
After a one-night stand with crack-smoking socialite Elena (Francesca Neri), the young and not very bright Víctor (Liberto Rabal) shows up at her flat. She buzzes him up, thinking he’s her drug dealer. When Elena realizes Victor isn’t her drug dealer, she can’t wait to get rid of him, and the situation escalates rapidly.
Meanwhile, two cops, partners David (Javier Bardem) and Sancho (José Sancho), cruise along in a squad car. Sancho drinks as he drives, regaling David with his marital problems. Sancho believes that his wife Clara (Ángela Molina) is cheating on him. He’s the kind of guy who beats his wife, apologizes, and then claims that it hurts him more than her.
From the squad car, David spots Elena and Victor struggling through the flat’s window and the stage is set for a confrontation that will change all of their lives. Guns will be fired, traps will be set, and relationships will be destroyed.
I’m not going to say any more about the plot because a great deal of the pleasure of Live Flesh is how the plot moves in unpredictable directions. You’re constantly having to reevaluate the relationships between the characters and how you feel about them. There isn’t a great deal of physical violence in the movie, but the emotional violence is staggering. (For those who enjoy such things, there is also quite a bit of nudity to spice things up.)
Somehow, Almodóvar manages to film Live Flesh in such a way that the nonstop flood of perversity across the screen doesn’t register as sleazy, but merely human, and undeniably entertaining.