Live Flesh

on January 16, 1998 by Cathy Thompson-Georges
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   The ever-flamboyant Pedro Almodovar begins and ends his newest film with two untimely Christmas births in Madrid, one before and one after the grim days of fascism--a construction which implies that his hero is akin to Christ, and Franco, by extension, to Herod. It's an audacious touch, and as politically outspoken as we've seem from this auteur. What unfolds in between these bookending events, however, is more melodrama than revelation.
   Based on a Ruth Rendell novel, "Live Flesh" belies its outrageous title to present a fairly straightfaced tale of betrayal both sexual and personal. A pointless armed stand-off over a lovely junkie (Francesca Neri) leaves young cop David (Javier Bardem) in a wheelchair, and the hapless Victor (a luscious Liberto Rabal) in prison for shooting him. While David becomes a wheelchair athlete extraordinaire and marries the reformed junkie Elena, Victor plots revenge. When he emerges from prison, however, nothing unfolds as simply as he expects. And David's former partner (Jose Sancho) and his straying wife Clara (Angela Molina) muddy the waters so that the piece's predictable villain becomes its true-hearted hero.
   As always, Almodovar has assembled a talented and gorgeous cast; unusually, for him, he has found men as interesting as his women. However, the film lacks the anarchic weirdness of some of his best, and without the camp elements it becomes obvious just how like a telenovela the goings-on are.
   There are plenty of reasons to see "Live Flesh": Almodovar's assured eye for striking visuals, several sumptuous sex scenes, and a magnificent performance from Rabal. But those who expect a film as groundbreaking as "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" or as splendidly perverse as "Matador" or "Kika" are likely to be disappointed.    Starring Liberto Rabal, Francesca Neri, Javier Bardem and Angelina Molina. Written and directed by Pedro Almodovar. Produced by CIBY 2000 and France Cinema 3. An MGM release. Drama. Spanish-language; subtitled. Rated R for strong sexuality, language and some drug content. Running time: 101 min.
Tags: Liberto Rabal, Francesca Neri, Javier Bardem, Angelina Molina, Pedro Almodover, CIBY 2000, France Cinema 3, MGM, Drama, spansih, hero, villian, prison, Madrid, political
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