Based on a Ruth Rendell novel we follow the haphazrd life of Victor.
Everyone at some time has pondered on the extraordinary consequences of simple coincidences, and in his latest, Almodovar would have us believe that everything is down to chance. But in Live Flesh, coincidences are contrivances, people only seem to be unlucky but are in fact shaping their own destinies.
Based on, of all things, a Ruth Rendell novel, this follows the life of Victor (Rabal), born - with what will become typically appalling timing - on a bus in the deserted streets of Madrid during the Franco regime. When at 20 he visits the room of Elena (Neri), with whom he's had a one-night stand, she pulls a gun on him, two policemen get involved, and an avoidable tragedy occurs. Years later, the lives of these four enmesh again, partly through chance, partly due to destructive manipulation.
However, there's never more than one dimension of the characters apparent and thus none are likeable: Elena is too cold; Victor is just dull; and one of the cops, David (Bardem), has betrayed his partner, Sanchez (Jose Sancho). The latter, a drunken wife-beater, and his pitiful wife Clara (Angela Molina) are the only characters to show any depth. Though weak, both struggle with their own emotional confusion, desperate to create something positive out of their unhappiness.
Cleverly structured, the director creates images that flow with textbook fluidity as he explores an intriguing concept. But the psychological study that is the author's trademark is reduced to superficial and negative motivation - lust, guilt, revenge, escape.
While despair underlies Almodovar's film, it does end on an optimistic note as the director attempts to lighten up with some misplaced jokes. These, though, are never any more than a brief respite from the irritating mess in which the characters embroil themselves.
Reviewed by Giala Murray