Spain’s wildman is back. He’s Pedro Almodóvar, the writer-director who introduced Antonio Banderas to U.S. audiences in such perverse joys as Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! Word on the festival circuit is that Don Pedro has dialed back on the kinky stuff. Hardly. Just because Almodóvar has adapted Live Flesh from a British novel by mystery writer Ruth Rendell doesn’t mean he’s lost his knack for sexual mischief.
The setting is Madrid. Horny Victor (Liberto Rabal) delivers pizzas and plays grab-ass with Elena (Francesca Neri), the junkie daughter of a rich diplomat. Elena has left an indelible impression on Victor simply by being his first fuck. Now Victor wants more. Their scuffling draws two cops: David (Javier Bardem) and his older partner, Sancho (Pepe Sancho). A gun goes off, and David is paralyzed. Victor is sent to prison for four years. After his release, Victor finds that David is now a basketball champion in a wheelchair and married to Elena, so straight that she runs a children’s center. Their sex life is anything but dull, as evidenced in a bathtub encounter of thigh locks and tongue action that ranks with Almodóvar’s most erotic. David takes love lessons from Sancho’s wife, Clara (Angela Molina). This affair with an older woman keeps the plot brimming with lust, betrayal and murder. Almodóvar, born under the restrictive Franco regime, has always gravitated to excesses in sex and politics. No exception here. Live Flesh, buoyed by keenly observant performances, is wildly seductive, subversively funny and coiled to spring. What’s unexpected is the tenderness – the still, watchful center in Almodóvar that draws us in deeper than before.