Combustible Celluloid
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With: Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Liberto Rabal, Francesca Neri, Jose Sancho, Angela Molina
Written by: Pedro Almodovar, Jorge Guerricaechevarria, Ray Loriga, based on a novel by Ruth Rendell
Directed by: Pedro Almodovar
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexuality, language and some drug content
Language: Spanish with English subtitles
Running Time: 103
Date: 10/12/1997

Live Flesh (1997)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Ground Farce

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Pedro Almodovar has done something nearly unheard of: he has made a wheelchair movie without maudlin sentiment and overbearing importance. Even better, it's actually rather enjoyable. Based on a novel by mystery writer Ruth Rendell, Live Flesh begins in flashback with pregnant Isabel Plaza Caballero (Penelope Cruz) giving birth on a Madrid city bus. The story captures the public imagination and she and her newborn son, Victor, are awarded lifetime bus passes. Years later, Victor (Liberto Rabal) attempts to date a punk, junkie girl, Elena (Francesca Neri), he met one week earlier in a bar, and the evening ends, guns drawn in a Mexican standoff. Cop David (Javier Bardem) is shot in the spine, Victor goes to jail and Elena falls in love with David. Years later, Elena is reformed, married to David, who plays on a wheelchair basketball team. David's partner, Sancho (Jose Sancho) -- also present at the standoff -- isn't doing so well; he suspects his wife, Clara (Angela Molina) is cheating. She is, with the newly released Victor. Obviously these events make for another colorful drawing-room farce, but this time Almodovar plays it straight. The characters move beyond archetypes, and each follows his or her own heart, with real consequences. The movie's biggest problem is that its prologue -- with the bus pass -- never really pays off.

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