Flashes back and forth in time, so I didn’t realize the two lead actresses on the poster art are both Julieta: younger Adriana Ugarte and older Emma Suárez (she worked with Julio Medem in the 1990’s).

Julieta hears word of her missing daughter Antía from a mutual friend and abruptly breaks contact with her boyfriend Lorenzo (Talk to Her star Darío Grandinetti, looking exactly the same), moves back into her old apartment building and writes a long letter to Antía explaining past events: meeting Antía’s dad Xoan, his affair with artist Ava (Blancanieves star Inma Cuesta) and their argument just before he died at sea while Antía was at camp. After her daughter disappears, Julieta makes up with Ava, waits and searches for Antía, and anyway there’s more, it’s a complicated movie, but it has a happyish ending and everyone’s just wonderful in it, and it’s particularly nice to see Rossy de Palma again (as a suspicious housekeeper). Didn’t make Cinema Scope’s year-end list, but I liked it more than The Ornithologist. I got a long way to go if I’m gonna be a celebrated art-cinema critic.

Antonio Banderas (first movie of his I’ve watched since Once Upon a Time in Mexico) invents an insect-and-heat-repellent artificial skin, which he’s tested on a beautiful woman who seems to be imprisoned in a room of his house. But the artificial skin is a distraction from the real story – the fact that the girl may be fireproof is sadly not integrated into the plot. Mainly the movie wants to tell us more about Vera, the woman in the room (Elena Anaya of Mesrine), and how she got there, with bonus sub-plots about Dr. Antonio and his family.

Firstly, his housekeeper/chef (Marisa Peredes, star of Flower of My Secret) is secretly his mom, and her misfit son Zeca comes to the house dressed as a tiger, ties up his mom and rapes the girl upstairs before Antonio comes home and shoots him to death, while mom watches on the monitors downstairs. Some of the most intense shots in the movie involve those monitors, Antonio, his mom and Zeca interacting with Vera’s image.

Backstory: Antonio became obsessed with artificial skin after his wife was disfigured in a burning car (crashed by Zeca, with whom she’d been cheating) then threw herself out the window to her death in front of their young daughter, who became a psychological wreck from the experience. Years later Antonio takes his daughter Norma on a rare trip outside her mental hospital to a party, where she’s nearly raped by party-crasher Vicente in the garden. Soon the daughter commits suicide and Antonio kidnaps Vicente, gives him an unwilling sex change and alters his whole body to resemble that of Antonio’s dead wife before her accident.

So, back in the present, it’s no wonder that soon after Antonio starts letting Vera/Vicente leave her room, she starts planning revenge – grabs a gun from his desk and kills Antonio and his mom. Movie ends with a tearful reunion, the beautiful Vera in her family’s shop for the first time in six years telling her mother “I’m Vicente.”

Almodovar will never top the Caetano Veloso interlude in Talk To Her, but he gives us a couple of passionate performances by Concha Buika, just one of the details that lifts this movie above its sordid story.

I meant to rewatch Eyes Without a Face before going to this, but forgot.

Almodovar back in his comedy period, and his fourth movie in a row starring pre-Hollywood Antonio Banderas, this time as a released mental patient who methodically stalks then kidnaps actress Victoria Abril (also of Kika and High Heels), basically ties her up until she falls in love with him. It’s possibly the great women’s director Almodovar’s least feminist film in that respect.

Before the kidnapping, Abril is starring in the final film of director Francisco Rabal (Nazarin himself). He wants reshoots so people are looking for her, plus Antonio has the actress’s sister to deal with, as well as a drug dealer (Rossy de Palma) he ripped off. Happy ending, but Katy still didn’t love it because kidnapping isn’t funny.

Film director Mateo Blanco (Lluís Homar of Bad Education) reinvents himself as novelist Harry Caine after an accident, both out of trauma from losing his lover Lena (Penélope Cruz), and to stay in hiding from the men he suspects caused the accident. Millionaire Ernesto Martel (José Luis Gómez of Goya’s Ghosts), producing Mateo’s film which stars Ernesto’s young wife Lena is one of those men, and his closeted son (Rubén Ochandiano of Che, Biutiful), stalking Mateo and Lena with a videocamera, is the other. Those four plus the always excellent Blanca Portillo (pot-smoking friend in Volver) are the core of the movie, which stays twisty and exciting due to Almodovar’s withholding of major story elements (like the car crash) until the end. As with Volver, it didn’t seem to burst off the screen and declare its excellence, just came off as another solid Almodovar pic. But thinking of those two in hindsight they seem so good I want to watch them again right now. Maybe that’s why the Almodovar movies I’ve seen more than once (All About My Mother, Talk To Her, Women on the Verge) are my favorites… all his work needs to be examined a second time, to appreciate the filmmaking once the shocks of the plot twists have worn off.

Cruz:
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T. Stempel:

Almodóvar is very aware that he is borrowing, and to save us from having to make a list of films and filmmakers he is referring to, we get a later scene of Diego going through Harry’s DVD collection, reading off titles and directors. One thing that struck me in watching the film is that it makes more sense as you watch it than any summary I have seen in the reviews of it. That is Almodóvar’s skill as a screenwriter.

Portillo:
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Ernesto’s son (in the present-day scenes calling himself Ray X) comes off as cartoonish (no disrespect to the actor; he’s given a cartoonish role to play). Mateo/Harry is very good as the star of the story, but as usual with Pedro’s films, my eyes are glued to the women: Cruz, Portillo, Lola Dueñas (The Sea Inside, Volver) as a lip-reader employed by Ernesto, and the unforgettable Rossy de Palma in a brief cameo.

Lola:
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Penelope Cruz (All About My Mother, Sahara) is RAIMUNDA. Carmen Maura (star of Women on the Verge) is her dead mother. Lola Dueñas (one of the nurses in Talk To Her) is her divorced sister. Yohana Cobo is her daughter. Chus Lampreave (Leo’s mother in Flower of My Secret) is her aunt who lives “alone” in their home town. Blanca Portillo (the queen of Spain in Milos Forman’s next movie) is an old friend who checks up on the aunt every day, has a missing mother, and develops cancer.

Tons of plot, as usual. Cruz’s husband tries to rape his daughter, is killed. Cruz buries him by the river with prostitute neighbor’s help. Cruz’s dark secret is that daughter’s real father is Cruz’s own father, who was killed in a fire by his wife while cheating with Blanca’s mother… so Cruz’s mother not really dead but hiding with the aunt. Cruz takes over neighbor’s restaurant, runs it for a film crew and gets it back on its feet. Sister hangs out with mom, talks about family, runs illicit hairdressing business from home.

Similarities with All About My Mother are many. Theme of returning home, theme of motherhood and “us women gotta stick together”, taking care of each other and helping raise kids. Everyone’s involved in illegal businesses, friends with prostitutes, drug use (Blanca grows+smokes weed). Secret pasts and secret pregnancies. Men are barely present. No transexuals in this one. Good music scene, not as nice as the Caetano Veloso scene in Talk To Her but close. Funeral scenes, film crews and television appearances. Feels like an Almodovar movie. Imagine that.

Neat scene: sister goes to aunt’s funeral, accidentally walks into the meeting room for men instead of women. More men than we’ve ever seen in one place (including the film wrap party at the restaurant)! Feels not just like the wrong room, but the wrong movie… everyone stares uncomfortably and she’s quickly ushered back into the world of women. Cruz is great, expressive, with her lipsynched song a highlight. Opening scene with all the town’s residents cleaning off their parents’ graves. The mom hiding all over the place. Touching ending, Cruz’s mom thanks Blanca for not mentioning her on television (when searching for her own mother), and comes to stay with her “until the end”.

Katy liked it too.

Diego (Nacho Martinez) is an ex-bullfighter. Now injured, he teaches his matador skills to a class which includes Angel (Antonio Banderas), who lives across the street from Diego’s cute young girlfriend Eva (Eva Cobo). Meanwhile, elsewhere in town, Maria (Assumpta Serna, later in Sam Fuller’s Day of Reckoning and the Quays’ Piano Tuner of Earthquakes) worships Diego, and has started killing men Matador-style while having sex with them.

After lamely trying to rape Eva (demonstrating the same stalkerish, kidnapping behavior as every other Almodovar film he’s in), religion-oppressed Antonio turns himself in to the police inspector (Eusebio Poncela from Law of Desire, who looks a lot like Diego so I thought the Matador was also the inspector for a few confusing minutes). That leads nowhere, but to get his mother (Julieta Serrano, the crazy Lucia from Women on the Verge) and her mother (Chus Lampreave, Leo’s mother in Flower of My Secret) all upset.

Two murders are discovered and two more are suspected, and Antonio is blamed… but it’s the work of the star-crossed Matadors, with whom Antonio has some sort of psychic link. Eventually they get to kill each other like they’ve always dreamed of doing. A happy ending!

More suicide and bullfights and movies (the gore films Diego watches while masturbating at the beginning) and the usual cast. A lot more zany than Law of Desire, and to its benefit… more fun to watch. Law of Desire’s murder + police themes seemed tacked on, but Matador is all about the murder and the investigation… seems more sure of itself (until the psychic bit at the end, I guess).

Just pretty good. Some really nice shots here and there. Male-centric mostly. Flat-nose girl plays interviewer – Almodovar himself as a shopkeeper. Opens with people doing voice-over for a film! Just like Women on the Verge. All About My Mother and Flower of My Secret open with hospital training videos. A play (Jean Cocteau’s “The Human Voice”) in Desire. Talk To Her opens and closes with a play. In Desire the lead is a filmmaker, and his transsexual sister is an actress. Lots of connections here… that’s why it’s hard to keep them all straight.

Pablo (Eusebio Poncela) loves Juan (Miguel Molina), who won’t admit he loves Pablo back. Juan goes away and Antonio (Banderas, who has been stalking Pablo, a la Tie Me Up) hooks up with Pablo. Pablo has transsex sister Tina (Carmen Maura, star of Women on the Verge) whose daughter’s mother has moved to Milan. After his latest film, Pablo directs a play of The Human Voice starring his sister and her daughter. Then it gets goofy, as Antonio kills Juan, Pablo gets amnesia, and Antonio takes the sister hostage, eventually killing himself. Great final shot as typewriter hurled from apartment window inexplicably ignites a dumpster and all cops and family in street scramble up the fire escape – shot freezes, roll credits.

Movie feels like it’s going somewhere, has interesting characters (Pablo being the least interesting), then the Antonio murder turns it into standard police-investigation fare.

The police inspector is Fernando Guillen (the elusive Ivan from Women on the Verge). Nacho Martinez was a doctor but I already don’t remember him, and Augustin Almodovar was in there somewhere.

Another Almodovar centering on accidents, suicide, bullfights and brain death on hospital beds… no organ donation discussions this time, though. Opens and closes with our protagonist seeing two different plays (there are either plays or films in every Almodovar movie that I can think of). And we get a gorgeous live performance by Caetano Veloso.

Center of the movie has Marco (Dario Grandinetti) watching over his girlfriend Lydia (Rosario Flores), and Benigno (Javier Camara) watching over his wannabe girlfriend Alicia (Leonor Watling) in a hospital. None of the main actors are Almodovar regulars; it’s a whole new cast. Geraldine Chaplin (Charlie’s daughter) plays Alicia’s dance instructor and Augustin Almodovar has another small part but I never recognize him.

So, the twists. Travel-writer Marco doesn’t realize that matador Lydia was about to leave him for another matador the day of the accident, and Alicia’s family doesn’t realize that Benigno is Alicia’s stalker until she becomes pregnant while still in the coma, and Benigno goes to jail and soon commits suicide. Seemingly happy ending as Marco meets Alicia at the play. Hell of a movie.

Leo (Marisa Paredes, Huma in All About My Mother) is a 50-ish woman with major marital problems. Her husband Paco (Imanol Arias) is always off on distant NATO missions and when he does return one time, it’s just for an hour to shower, fight with Leo, and announce that he’s leaving her for good. He’s also having an affair with Leo’s best friend, psychologist Betty (Carmen Elias). Leo’s mother fights constantly with Leo’s sister Rosa (Rossy de Palma, the one with the nose). What’s more, Leo is secretly the hugely popular romance novelist Amanda Gris, and after interviewing for a newspaper column, the editor Angel (Juan Echanove) finds out. Fortunately, he and Leo are perfect for each other, and he even ghost-ghost-writes a couple Amanda Gris novels while Leo’s getting back on her feet by taking care of her mother in their old village. Oh also Leo’s maid Blanca stages a great flamenco show funded by a script that her son Antonio stole from Leo’s trashcan. Very much an adult movie, with the usual motherhood themes and suicide attempts. Not as wild and fun as the others… pretty grounded, for Almodovar.

Opens the same way as All About My Mother, with Betty taping a play-acted discussion at the hospital regarding organ donation after a patient has died. Nobody dies in this one, though.