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flick pick | Live Flesh [Carne Tremula] 1997
Directed by: Pedro Almodovar
Written by: Pedro Almodóvar, Jorge Guerricaechevarría, Ray Loriga, Ruth Rendell (novel)
Starring: Javier Bardem, Francesca Neri, Liberto Rabal, Ángela Molina, José Sancho
Language: Spanish
Look for it at the video store under: drama, foreign [Spain]
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something: artsy-fartsy, darkly comic
The critic says: / 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: /5 

Plot synopsis On a passenger seat of an off-duty city bus in the latter days of Franco-era Madrid, Victor makes his arrival into the world. His mother is young, single, and poor; what living she makes comes from turning tricks. So happily ever after doesn't really seem like it's part of young Victor's destiny. He loses his virginity to a beautiful drug addict named Elena at a nightclub one night, and promptly fancies himself in love; when she blows him off on the evening they've arranged to get together next, he can't seem to understand why. Heartbroken and pissed-off, he shows up at her door, demanding an explanation. Elena, infinitely more experienced than Victor and impatiently waiting for her dealer to show up so she can get her fix, tells him flat-out that the sex was lousy, and that he should get his loser self away from her before she makes him. To prove her point, she gets out her gun. In the struggle that ensues the gun accidentally goes off, prompting Elena's neighbor to call in the police. Meanwhile, two cops are in the midst of a deep heart-to-heart over older partner Sancho's worries that his wife Clara is having an affair. When the cops field the call, Sancho's been drinking his problems away and his emotions are high. What should be a simple matter of getting Victor to vacate the premises gets a little messier thanks to Sancho's irrational behavior; David gets shot and ends up paralyzed, and Victor's carted away to jail. Six years later and Victor finally finishes serving his time. While he's been wasting his life away behind bars, David's married a now-respectable Elena and gained a fair bit of fame as a star wheelchair basketball player for Spain's national team. Still hurt by Elena's rejection and seething with envy at David's success, Victor has just one thing on his mind: revenge.

Review For all that Almodovar's movies are so wonderfully, garishly, surreally colorful, and his characters over-the-top crazy, there's really something incredibly elegant about the way in which he weaves together the complicated relationships that define his films. He's just such an assured storyteller that he can make the messiest of stories unfold in a way that seems effortlessly graceful. In the hands of your average hack, the headache-inducingly complex ties that bind Victor, Elena, David, Clara, and Sancho would be soap-opera unbelievable. The various intersecting love triangles and requisite coincidences propelling the storylines would feel contrived and hopelessly difficult to follow; you'd be conscious the whole time of what an utter fantasy world this was. But the thing about the world that Almodovar creates, here in Live Flesh and in so many of his other films as well, is that despite the fact that the people that inhabit them don't much resemble the ones in my own rather pedestrian, middle-class American reality, the fundamental emotions that motivate them ring absolutely true. Love, hate, anger, jealousy, lust: these are the feelings at the core of Victor, Elena, David, Sancho, and Clara's actions. Even when the characters are acting in a way that you can't ever imagine acting yourself, you eventually get the why behind their behaviors, and empathize with them even when they're waving guns at each other and breaking out into hysterics and being emotionally manipulative bastards. By film's end, Almodovar manages to make you care about characters you kinda sorta hated two hours earlier. And you find yourself rooting for that improbable -- but not impossible -- fairy-tale ending. Because heck, if these screwed-up, psychologically damaged folks can manage to find something resembling happily-ever-after, then hey: there's hope for us all.
—reviewed by Yee-Fan Sun

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