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Last night: a French meal and a Spanish movie. The former was delightful. The latter troubles me more the longer I think about it.

Stop reading if you're freaky about "spoilers."

Does Pedro Almodovar hate women? I've only seen half a dozen of his films, but the female leads who aren't raped ("Kika," "Tie me up, tie me down," "Talk to Her") only have positive sexual experiences when they're unable to consent to them -- I'm thinking primarily of Rossy de Palma's life-changing orgasm while under the influence of the drugged gazpacho in "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown," but "Talk to Her" features a silent film parody in which a scientist's boyfriend shrinks to three inches tall, waits until she's asleep, then runs around the peaks and valleys of her naked body, finally crawling into her vagina and staying there forever.

My friend David once told me that I don't enjoy certain music and movies because, "Your agenda gets in the way." There's some truth to that, I'll admit. But what is the proper way to react to a director who sets his female leads up for sexual brutality on a regular basis? What is Almodovar's agenda? What is to be gained from getting the audience to sympathize with the unstable if friendly stalker/rapist Benigno in "Talk to Her"? When Alicia meets him before the accident that leaves her comatose and under his care for four years, she's terrified of him. Yet we're, I think, supposed to be touched by the way he nurtures her when she's mostly braindead and helpless. Almodovar seems to treat him as a naive, misguided romantic instead of a predatory and disturbed freak.

I found this movie terribly sad, but probably not for the reasons I was supposed to.

Replies: 4 Confessions

I'm with you. First off, I think "agenda" is a code word meant to trivialize women's concerns. Second, all narrative is moral, including film. If a narrative celebrates power and control, I see no problem with condemning the film. I have a wonderful, readable book on this issue by Wayne Booth called "The Company We Keep," in which Booth urges readers to recognize and condemn what he calls deplorable but "presented . . . through the seductive medium of their own rhetoric." If I remember right, his example is Mickey Spillane-style hardboiled detective (a violent, racist, mysogynist thug. The question then becomes whether Almodovar the filmmaker gives viewers enough information to condemn their exploitation or whether he, too, is seduced by the medium.
PS Sorry to have nerded out - this whole issue of the moral dimension of narrative is obviously on my agenda.

elavil @ 01/05/2003 01:05 PM CST

I have only seen Kika, and read reviews of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. those were enough for me to decide his style and material choice are emotionally stunted. brightly colored projections of an adolescent. Kika was fucking creepy. There are thousands of flims I want to see, so why should I take time to watch his creepy shit.

shechemist @ 01/05/2003 08:28 PM CST

One reason I'm so disappointed is that I really enjoyed the first two-thirds of this movie. Almodovar seemed to have matured from his candy-colored, shocking-for-its-own-sake earlier style (like "Women on the Verge"), and the movie explored male friendship, caretaking and commitment in interesting ways. The performances are all stellar. But when he insisted on painting the nurse and the comatose ballerina as star-crossed lovers instead of rapist and victim, it just ruined the whole movie for me.

amyc @ 01/06/2003 10:42 AM CST

Now that everybody knows what a seething bigot I am, I will suggest that the inability to distinguish between love and rape is a particularly Spanish point of view - cf. Picasso. Feel free to throw fruit.

elavil @ 01/06/2003 01:22 PM CST

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