Friday, April 29, 2011

Live Flesh

Originally Written and Posted at on 7/28/08.

Following the release of 1995's La Flor de mi Secreto (The Flower of My Secret), Pedro Almodovar was moving away from the extravagant, irreverent, and shock-value films in order to explore mature, dramatic territory. For his next project, Almodovar decided to take his first chance to adapt a novel into a film. The book entitled Live Flesh by acclaimed English novelist Ruth Rendell about a man who is released from prison after ten years for crippling a police officer following an attempted rape. Hoping to start a new life, the man is haunted by his actions as he meets the woman he tried to rape years ago while her husband is the man he crippled. For Almodovar, he takes Rendell's crime novel and adds a personal touch to his own adaptation as it's translated to the film Carne Tremula.

Directed by Pedro Almodovar with an adapted script he co-wrote with Jorge Guerricaechevarria and Ray Loriga. The film takes place in Spain 1970 during the Franco era only to move forward to 1996 in the post-Franco era. Taking Rendell's story and translating it into a dark, character-driven story set in Spain and in Spanish. The film also takes Almodovar to new levels of maturity as he delves into new dramatic territory that would allow him to explore dark themes that he never been to in previous films. Starring Javier Bardem, Francesca Neri, Liberto Rabal, Jose Sancho, Angela Molina, and in her first film for Almodovar, Penelope Cruz. Carne Tremula is a brilliant, unique, and spellbinding adaptation from Pedro Almodovar.

It's 1970 as a state of emergency is happening in Spain during the Franco era as a young woman named Isabel (Penelope Cruz) is in labor as her friend Dona Centro de Mesa (Pilar Bardem) is trying to find transportation to take Isabel to the hospital. After getting a bus driver (Alex Angulo) to stop the bus, the driver reluctantly takes Centro and Isabel to the hospital. Instead, Isabel gives birth to a baby boy named Victor as she and Victor were part of a news story as they were given lifetime passes to ride the city bus. Twenty years later, Victor works a pizza boy as he hopes to go out with a woman named Elena (Francesca Neri) whom he met a week earlier at a club. Yet, the heroin-addicted Elena doesn't seem to remember that she has a date and tells Victor that she has other plans.

Meanwhile, two cops are driving around Madrid as a detective named Sancho (Jose Sancho) is drunk and angry about the idea that his wife Clara (Angela Molina) is cheating on him. Yet, his partner David (Javier Bardem) is claiming that Sancho is paranoid. When Victor is riding on the bus and realizes that Elena isn't going anywhere, he gets into her apartment and ask why she won't go out with him tonight. Yet, a gunshot happens but no one is hurt as Sancho and David are called to investigate. When the two cops enter Elena's door, they see that Elena has a cut on her head as Sancho thinks Victor is a criminal. Yet, the by-the-book David tries to maintain control as a struggle between Sancho and Victor over Elena's gun happens leading to David being paralyzed and Victor in jail.

Six years later, Victor is released as he already knew four years prior, David has become a national basketball star in the paraplegic games and is married to Elena, who has cleaned up. Victor attends the gravestone of his mother, who had died two years earlier, as he learns that Elena is in the cemetery for her father's funeral. Victor offers his condolences as he meets with Clara, who has become loopy and often forgetful. Victor befriends Clara, who is trying to separate from Sancho, where she helps become a better lover due to his lack of sexual experience. When David learns that Victor was at Elena's father's funeral, he confronts Victor as he tells her to stay away from Elena. Though Victor doesn't want to do any harm, Victor spies on him as he learns that he volunteered at Elena's children center though Elena is unsure due to their history.

Still, Victor has managed to be good with kids while he continues his affair with Clara as her own relationship with Sancho is rockier than ever despite Sancho's insistence to keep the relationship going. When David decides to have another confrontation with Victor at the center, Victor reveals what happened that night and what he revealed into why David got shot. David is forced to confront some secrets as his own as Elena is disgusted where she meets Victor at the center as he reveals his old feelings of hatred and revenge. Victor's affair with Clara starts to take a crazy turn as she becomes desperate while David becomes paranoid as he turns to Sancho. With Elena forced to confront her own possible feelings for Victor, things begin to collide as all five individuals come into play.

In Almodovar's only film adaptation, so far, the director translates Ruth Rendell's dramatic crime novel into a suspenseful drama that has the makings of a classic suspense film but set it in both 1970 Franco-era Spain and contemporary, modern post-Franco Spain. What the film is about thematically is guilt, a man who feels guilty for paralyzing a good man despite being in love with that man's wife. Another man guilty for his own sins that might've caused him to be paralyzed. A woman guilty for putting a man in jail and another man becoming paralyzed. What Almodovar and his co-screenwriters create is a study of guilt and five people that are involved in the incident.

While Almodovar's approach to the adaptation is definitely unique and takes him to newer, dramatic territory that would follow through the films that he would make after Carne Tremula. Not everything in the adaptation is perfect, which is often expected. Probably because of the character of Clara, who isn't as developed as the four other main characters. Though what she reveals for the film's plot to advance is important, her character is essentially a loopy woman who has an affair with Victor and trying to get out of her relationship with Sancho. The rest of the characters go through their own struggles as they deal with their own guilt and demons as Almodovar carefully explores what the characters are feeling and such.

Almodovar's direction is taken to new heights with interesting compositions and shots of Madrid. Almodovar also creates stylized shots and approach to things such as sex scenes and confrontation to newer yet restrained territory. Though Almodovar admits to not being a technical director, the scenes he stages and creates are filled with traditional drama as the approach is more restrained than his earlier work. There's times that shots are slanted to create a mood while a very hot sex scene is done with slow motion and interesting compositions to show the passion between two characters. The result is that Almodovar is becoming not just a becoming director at this point, he becomes more confident and knows what his audience can expect and unexpect. What Carne Tremula does for him is take the transition he had previously in La Flor de mi Secreto from extravagant films to dramatic territory more smoothly where he would explore universal themes that would give him international prestige.

Cinematographer Affonso Beato does some great work in the colorful palettes he create for some of the film's exterior nighttime settings of Madrid with wonderful use of city lights. With a lot shades and brightness, the film has a very distinct, Spanish look that is magical and beautiful while the interiors also work as Beato's camera work is very superb. Longtime editor Jose Salcedo brings a lot of style to the film's editing as his use of transitions, jump-cuts, and slow-motion cutting. Salcedo's work is just brilliant to create a style that works for the film's suspense and drama.

Art director Antxon Gomez does a great job with the look of contemporary Spain with the drab, ruined look of Victor's home that later becomes a cleaner, livelier place while David and Elena's place is a great, contemporary apartment that includes a mini basketball court that David practices in. Costume designer Jose Maria De Cossio does wonderful work with the clothes whether it's the gym clothes that David and Victor wears to the slender, casual dress that Elena wears or the more exotic clothing that Carla wears. Sound designer Bernardo Menz does great work in the sound to create a mood and sense of tension with the film's violence and sex scenes as well as the great location work for the basketball scenes. Longtime music composer Alberto Iglesias creates an amazing score that is purely orchestral with dramatic arrangements that range from suspenseful to the dramatic. The music of the film also includes songs that play to the film's narrative and the feelings of those characters.

The casting by Katrina Bayonas is great for its assembly of the cast with notable small performances from Alex Angulo as the bus driver in the opening sequence, Mariola Fuentes and Josep Molins as a couple of volunteers from the children's center, and Javier Bardem's real-life mother Pilar as Isabel's midwife. Though Penelope Cruz is only in the film for the first ten minutes, her appearance as Isabel, Victor's mother, is excellent as a woman about to give birth as she hopes for a bright future for her son. Angela Molina is good as Carla, Sancho's loopy, abused, and melodramatic wife who becomes Victor's lover. Though her character is underwritten and lacks character development, Molina is good in what she had to work with. Jose Sancho is excellent as Sancho, a jealous husband who is desperate to be with Carla while also trying to sober up.

Liberto Rabal is excellent as Victor, a young man whose promising life is taken away by a misunderstanding yet his motives are to try and live his life. Yet, when he runs into Elena, he tries to see her despite David's warnings as his intentions are honorable while admitting that he wanted a bit of revenge. Rabal's performance works to convey the sense of youth in the 1990 sequence and then having a more subtle, mature approach to his performance that works for his character development. Italian actress Francesca Neri is great as Elena, a former drug addict who would become a children's center organizer. Neri's performance is great as she start out with poofy, blonde hair in the 1990 sequence to a more straight-laced, brunette-look that is more casual as Neri's performance is great in her development as a woman ravaged with guilt over what happened years ago and what she's feeling now.

Finally, there's Javier Bardem in a great performance as David, a by-the-book cop turned paraplegic basketball superstar. Bardem brings a sense of subtlety to his character as a cop who is more about rules and order yet when Victor re-enters his life after the accident. Bardem brings a lot of great, dramatic tension as man uneasy as he confronts him only to be dealt with the guilt of his role into Victor's jail sentence. It's a great performance from Bardem, who at the time was a rising star in his native Spain. Especially for the fact that throughout the entire film, he is on a wheelchair that shows his commitment to playing great characters. Whether it's a celebrated gay novelist, an aspiring bullfighter, or an eerie hitman in his Oscar-winning performance in 2007's No Country for Old Men by the Coen Brothers. Bardem's performance in Carne Tremula shows his range and versatility that he displays as an actor.

While it's not a masterpiece in comparison to latter-day films that would follow like Todo Sobre Mi Madre, Hable con Ella, and Volver. Carne Tremula is still a brilliant film from Pedro Almodovar and company with great performances from Javier Bardem, Francesca Neri, Liberto Rabal, and a small one from Penelope Cruz. Fans of Almodovar definitely consider this film as one of his essential as well as another transitional film that would lead him into great dramatic territory. The film also bears the hallmarks of Almodovar's latter-day work with flourishing colors, restrained yet staged drama, subtle sensuality, and smooth melodrama. In the end, Carne Tremula is superb, suspense-drama from Pedro Almodovar and company.

© thevoid99 2011

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