The question that was so precisely distilled by this film as I tearfully embraced its end was this:
“What does it take for any of us to learn how to return to our innocence?”
The answer, of course, is one that winds and turns on an axis of every individual, differently. And yet we whirl together.
This film has become my new #1, of all time. Perhaps it was the bookending with accessible yet genius modern dance performances (having studied and performed modern dance in college, I can say that these were quite, well, perfect). Perhaps it was the precision with which the the scenes in time were juxtaposed, to tug with maximum emotive force, yet so gently.
I don’t know. I am still in the throws of reflection. Here are some observations that initially strike me as genius. The rest I will leave to you if you have not seen. For this, my friends, is a sacred production … one that I more than hesitate to explain, for I am gratefully unable to be stretched beyond words.
Vaguely, the plot revolves around two men–Marco (Dario Grandinetti) and Benigno (Javier Camara) whose lives have been intertwined with women–Lydia (Rosario Flores) and Alicia (Leonor Watling)–who are in commas.
The twists and turns of both of these relationships are best discovered in the watching. While at first you will likely be mesmerized by the perfect pace, genius time skipping, clean script and sensual choices of Pedro Amodovar (not to mention the person in charge of casting), you will soon be pulled deeper into personal passages that find a settling point within Marco. And what a fitting actor to lead you into what ultimately transpires.
His profession is that of a travel writer, an occupation chosen out of love, not for the craft but for a woman. In this occupation, his antennae have become acutely sensitive not only to all that is taken in by the senses but also to the textured experiences of others. As the film slopes down from its climax, we realize how much we need him to translate the rest of the story, emotionally. We become him; we have to take him on, take his feelings as ours. Indeed, without his soft underbelly exposed to what his unusual emotional intelligence must process, this film would be like any other (but still better).
We realize that both Marco and Benigno found their lot in life through their love and devotion to women. Benigno’s path is riddled, however, with hardships (that he endearingly smiles in the face of). As Marco looks on, he is coaxed closer to Benigno by destiny’s hands. And yet, a perfect scene–during a visit across plexiglass at a psychotic ward where the reflections subtly yet precisely overlay their faces–captures something more than destiny or coincidence can explain.
Although they are propped up in the film’s trailers and posters as the premise for the film due to their striking beauty and symbolism, the bullfighting scenes are fleeting plot anchors. The symbolism is no less important, however. The bull in the first fight, bloody and tired, is conquered by Lydia (a famous female bullfighter), who has just before the fight shown absolute resistance when prompted for her feelings around a breakup. Her gesture to slay the animal aligns with this need to fight her feelings (the bull symbolizing the sheer, relentless power of emotions), and thus show the world her powerlessness (blood-strewn bull topples to the will of the human mind and its contrived traditions and social pressures).
The second bullfight scene, however, is wildly different. It displays surrender and the start of cascading events and crisscrossing of lives–its resolution is not seen until late in the film, when Lydia’s ex lover returns to the side of her bed … albeit not under ordinary circumstances.
The film is dotted with the refreshingly-candid and delightfully-crass banter of ordinary people. It provides a poignant backdrop to the main characters. We see clearly that these chatty, gossipy people are locked into the eye of life’s storm but have seemingly never gone through the big “doughnut” of thunder-struck madness to get there. Missing out on the juice of life through their squatting in the comfort zone, they half-bake the stories of the lives of others to invent drama. The main characters are those living right in the storm, looking for that center. As they find it, so too do they discover a return to innocence that can only be attained by passage through the weathering of life.