Live Flesh, Pedro Almodóvar's best movie since Women On The Verge of A Nervous Breakdown, puts a dazzling end to nine years of helpless noodling between the split ends of his sensibility: the colorful, taboo-busting sex romps of Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down and the appalling Kika, and the Douglas Sirk-inspired melodrama of High Heels and the underrated Flower Of My Secret. Rather than choosing one side or the other, Almodóvar's solution this time is a reckless, kitchen-sink approach, and his desperate energy pays off. Working from the novel by Ruth Rendell, Almodóvar deserves credit just for making sense of its labyrinthine plot. Born the son of a prostitute on a wild bus ride in 1970 Madrid—his umbilical cord is chewed off by the madam—an awkward teenager (Liberto Rabal) falls for an attractive blonde junkie (Francesca Neri). When Neri refuses to see him, he breaks into her apartment and finds himself in a standoff with two plain-clothes cops, one of whom (Javier Bardem) is accidentally shot in the spine, then goes on to become the addict's husband and a wheelchair-basketball star. After he's released from a prison sentence, Rabal gets involved with his neighbor (Angela Molina), who, in a cruel coincidence, happens to be stuck in an unhappy marriage with the other officer (Pepe Sancho). Like his mixed-up characters, Almodóvar gets caught up in the liberating spirit of post-Franco Spain, using the cinema as a playground for his fetishistic whims. Live Flesh has it all: irreverent political commentary, Buñuelian absurdities, the romantic fatalism of noir, and the juicy entanglements of the trashiest soap opera.
More from The A.V. Club