, 110 min, 1986
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Writers: Pedro Almodóvar (story), Jesús Ferrero (screenplay) & Pedro Almodóvar (screenplay)
Stars: Assumpta Serna, Antonio Banderas, Nacho Martínez
Pedro Almodovar’s Matador is a noir-tinged, perversely and vibrantly sexual, twisted, pitch-black comedy, a tale of serial killers, psychosexual fetishes and bull-fighting which takes a late, bizarre turn toward the Lynchian.
Antonio Banderas stars as Angel, a young bull-fighting student in Madrid seeking excitement in death, having been raised by an a Catholic zealot mother (Julietta Serano) who inundates her son with feelings of guilt at every turn. Angel is taking classes from a famous ex-bullfighter named Diego (Nacho Martinez), who was badly gored in the past and is now relegated to teaching decent students the art and craft of his former profession. Diego has a girlfriend, the fashion model Eva (Eva Cobo), who is also Angel’s neighbor.
Setting out to prove his “mandhood,” the slightly effeminate Angel follows Eva down an alleyway and attempts to rape her, but things go awry: he can’t open his pocketknife and prematurely ejaculates “between her legs” instead of “on-target” so the ordeal is really not too bad for Eva (she doesn’t even wanna bother reporting it). Angel attempts to turn himself in for the rape, but his confession is rebuked by Eva, who is more inconvenienced by this than the rape itself.
Soon, in desperation, Angel is confessing to a series of bi-gender murders in which sex was used as bait to kill the prey. His case is taken up by Maria (Assumpta Serna), a successful lawyer who takes a lot of flack for helping out a would-be rapist and sexual murderer.
It’s what some characters know and others don’t that is the secret to this film’s plot, which does cartwheels into the soap operatic with reckless abandon. When we first meet Diego during the opening credits, he is masturbating shamelessly to a sick and violent montage of sexually-tinged and gruesome gore-infested slasher film clips. Maria, turns out, is something of a black widow (or praying mantis?) who meets men, seduces them, and at the height of orgasm stabs them in the back of the neck with her hairpin; was she a matador in training as well?
Pedro Almodovar is the Spanish answer to Douglas Sirk and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, combining stylish and saucy dark comedy with over-the-top melodrama; his plots are like Hitchcockian soft-core porn. Having burst onto the foreign independent film scene with the little-seen underground film Pepi, Luci, Bom and the Other Girls (1980), he has since “graduated” to such darkly comedic and provocative melodramas as Labyrinth of Passion (1982), Dark Habits(1983) and What Have I Done to Deserve This? (1984).
With this film, Almodovar finally has his most air-tight plot to date. Filmed with great style, utilizing a lurid color scheme, Almodovar has created a deeply twisted and sometimes absurdly funny portrait of a labyrinthine criminal web with erotic undertones and irrevocable consequences.
If I had any real trouble with this film, it is a bizarre final turn into the paranormal: without giving away any specifics, I will say that at a crucial point, perhaps for the mere self-satisfaction of the plot, a certain character seems to have developed a sort of psychic intuition and uses it to get somewhere just barely in time to catch a certain person in “the act.” This struck me as almost a cheat of a development, unless I missed the establishment of this characteristic in the earlier scenes. Still, Almodovar is a talented and brilliant filmmaker and well worth his growing reputation.