Tag: rossy de palma

Madame


Madame (2017)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Although Amanda Sthers’ razor-sharp comedy-of-manners “Madame” unfolds within the household of a wealthy family, it is effective as a social commentary when it comes to how we see and therefore treat people in uniform who hold jobs that are typically considered as common or lowly. Some may reduce the plot to a lite Cinderella story, but it so much smarter, more efficient, certainly more savage, than mainstream comedies.

In this case, the focus is on how a maid, required by her employer to pretend as a posh friend due to a mix-up in the number of guests to attend the dinner party, is utilized as an object to be displayed when the upper-crust company arrive. She is expected to be radiant, classy, sophisticated, and quiet—traits that poor or working-class people simply do not possess, at least according the family she works for. They may not say it, but their behavior communicates exactly what and how they feel toward the person who is more or less invisible until she does something even slightly wrong.

Rossy de Palma is one of the few performers who disarms me simply by looking at her. Not considered to possess a typical beauty, she has proven in previous roles that she has mastered how to utilize her strong and unique features. In this film, she softens them in order to acquire the viewers’ empathy without necessarily feeling sorry for her. For instance, look closely during the dinner sequence. Even when she is surrounded by a crowd in the middle of conversations, all she has to do is turn to her face in profile relative to the camera and our eyes go directly toward her. When she bulges her eyes a little, we know exactly what she’s thinking. When she is eating soup and looking down, she remains in character; we feel how uncomfortable and awkward Maria feels, how ashamed she is for being at that table as her employer discharges pointed looks at her for stealing the spotlight. Note the way she handles the utensils. Clearly, the ballet is being performed by a consummate actor.

But the picture is not just about the maid. It is also about the woman who is baffled for realizing she is jealous of her own maid. Collette plays Anne as a shrew, but her portrayal inspires a certain sadness despite the character’s extremely disgusting behavior. I admired that the screenplay touches upon a few reasons why this woman feels the need to control—even those that shouldn’t be controlled. de Palma and Collette share great chemistry in which the reaction is almost always cold and unforgiving. We wonder about their history, particularly how Maria could have endured working for Anne for a decade.

I imagine many viewers are likely to be put off by the ending. For me, however, it is most appropriate because it works a barometer on how optimistic or pessimistic we are about how life tends to unfold. I enjoyed that the final few minutes turns its attention on the viewer rather than the characters. Yes, we wonder what will happen next. But how we feel about what might happen next holds more significance. We walk away with a strong impression.

Julieta


Julieta (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★

Based on three short stories by Alice Munro, “Julieta,” directed by Pedro Almodóvar, is likely to frustrate viewers because it dares to end right at the climax. However, audiences with discerning eyes and minds will recognize that this astute decision exactly fits the material’s themes involving broken relationships and longing. It shouldn’t end any other way.

Followers of Almodóvar’s work may feel a bit disappointed because gone are the usual pavonine displays of primary colors or colors that complement one another. We do encounter his signature style of employing the color red to highlight an object, a living space, or an emotion, but this technique comes across as out of place, almost as a tool to get us to pay attention when there really is not much to see or even think about. Yet, again, I admired the filmmaker’s ability to play with expectations, even daring to alienate or render his niche viewers off-balance, because a feeling of disappointment and emptiness pervades the life of the story’s central character.

Emma Suárez and Adriana Ugarte play Julieta, the older and younger, respectively, and they command a fascinating way of being. Although the two may not look alike physically, they do share an air of vulnerability, almost a certain proclivity for sadness—which works effectively in dramatic scenes when secrets kept buried for years finally reach the surface. In Ugarte’s scenes, told in an extended flashback, there is a feeling of neediness to her, kind of like a wounded bird you’d want to take home and care for. In Suárez’s scenes, which take place in the present, she balances obsession and depression without playing extremes. We believe that the aging woman is the young woman we’ve come to know in the past.

As expected from an Almodóvar picture, there is generous use of closeups. This is a filmmaker who loves images of women—faces of women, to be exact—even if the characters, or the performers, do not look their best. The wrinkles around one’s mouth, dark shadows under one’s eyes, the asymmetry of one’s face—these make the characters’ histories all the more convincing; the more worn they look, the more we believe that they’ve lived the lives being portrayed. Sometimes the appearance of polish in a drama might as well be a physical wall between the audience and the characters.

The driving force of the film is a question: What are the circumstances that lead to Julieta’s crippling loneliness? Some might suggest that the story is about a mother and daughter’s separation. While this is partly true, it fails to encapsulate what’s already inside the lead protagonist before she had her daughter, that sadness already growing within her that makes us not want to look away. There is a reason why the title is simply called “Julieta” and Almodóvar’s hands create a stunning portrait of a woman on the edge.

Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!


Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! (1990)
★★★ / ★★★★

When Ricky (Antonio Banderas) is released from a mental hospital, he makes it his goal to find Marina (Victoria Abril), a former pornographic actress hoping to break into the film industry, and start a family with her. Though he finds her on the set of her first movie, she fails to realize that they had met some time ago and shared a one night stand. The encounter leaves Ricky confused and frustrated so he decides he has no choice but to break into the actress’ home and keep her there against her will until she starts to reciprocate his feelings.

Written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar, “Átame!,” explores Stockholm Syndrome through an alternating comedic and dramatic lens. On one level, it is fascinating because Marina learns her value by being in control of a man. She does not value herself not because she starred in pornographic movies–after all, a person must go through whatever means to survive–but because she knows she is addicted to cocaine, aware that it is bad for her, and yet she continues to put the poison into her system. By spending time with Ricky, as twisted as it is, she feels loved: love outside of her fans’ adoration and love outside of family attachment and obligation. Through this intense, charming figure, somehow she learns to love herself.

On another level, it is interesting to watch because Ricky is not someone anyone can easily root for either initially or at all. We must not forget that he hits her multiple times and ties her up to the bed every time he has to run an errand. No one should condone violence against women but, surprisingly, what they share works because the writer-director has found a way to get the film’s message across with enough clarity and insight relative to the rules it sets up for itself.

Abril and Banderas are dangerous and sexy together. I loved looking at Abril’s face because it seems to transform under a specific light combined with a specific emotion. Her face reminds me of the fire in Juliette Binoche’s prototypical characters when they are threatened and the tenderness in Sarah Michelle Gellar’s when they are showered with flattery. The bizarre couple’s one and only sex scene holds a certain irony. Marina is pornographic star but the love scene is far from pornographic. Also, it is well-placed within the film’s arc because it is the moment when we are able to see clearly that Marina has fallen for her captor. The way she asks, nay, commands him not to pull out as they share an intense orgasm, normal for any couple with a healthy, two-way sex life, is almost romantic. I say “almost” because we do not forget how their relationship is forged.

However, I wished that two supporting characters had more time on screen: Lola (Loles León), Marina’s sister, and the drug dealer on a Vespa (Rossy de Palma). Both are strong women who know what they want and when they should come and grab it. If the two of them had been more developed, it would have been more obvious that Almodóvar does not condone violence toward women.

“Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” is kinky, daring, and unapologetic in terms of the images and implications it puts out there. The final scene in the car when a song is sung is cathartic and moving yet open to interpretation. It dares to leave us hanging.

The Flower of My Secret


The Flower of My Secret (1995)
★★ / ★★★★

This film did not look or feel like it was completely directed by Pedro Almodóvar. It was a little too straightforward in its storytelling so it made me feel uncomfortable. “La flor de mi secreto” or “The Flower of My Secret” told the story of a writer (Marisa Paredes) who published her novels under a pseudonym because she valued her privacy. Only her best friend (Carme Elias) and a few others who were really close to her knew the truth about her career. Sick of writing romance novels especially since her marriage was on the rocks (her husband played brilliantly with cold disregard by Imanol Arias), she decided to write for a newspaper and was assigned to write critiques of her own novels. There were some excellent scenes in this movie such as the lead character’s interactions with her frustrated sister (Rossy de Palma) and stressed out mother (Chus Lampreave), when the lead character received a lecture from her publishers about why they couldn’t and wouldn’t publish her new novel that was dark and edgy (the description of the events in novel was very amusing because it sounded like something Almodóvar would make into a movie), and the scene with her husband in which it showcased how lonely the lead character truly was in terms of not having someone that she could be fully be open to whenever she felt like lowest in her life. However, there were many scenes shot outdoors, especially in the beginning, that were supposed to be funny but fell completely flat. Those scenes looked too commercial and they didn’t have Almodóvar’s signature use of extreme colors, they lacked tension, and given that they were taken out from the movie, the end product would have been the same. Such scenes felt like fillers and they quickly wore out their welcome. I understood that perhaps Almodóvar was trying to do something different with his style but I felt like he didn’t have complete control of the material when he was experimenting. The best scenes in the film had focus on the relationship between the main character and the women in her life and how they helped each other move past seemingly insurmountable emotional challenges. I think more scenes with the eccentric family would have benefited the movie greatly because de Palma was simply electric. She wasn’t in the movie much but every time she was on screen, I was drawn to her and I noticed the subtleties in her body movements. And in a way, the family reminded me of my own relatives because even though we get under each others’ skins, there’s a lot of undeniable love between the awkward silences. I liked “The Flower of My Secret” because it did have fantastic moments. However, I’m not sure how forgiving most people can be if they are not familiar with Almodóvar’s colorful and bold repertoire.

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown


Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988)
★★★ / ★★★★

“Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios” or “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” showcases how fearless Pedro Almodóvar can be as a writer and director. After Pepa (Carmen Maura) was left by her lover (Fernando Guillén), she decided to kill herself by eating gazpacho mixed with heavy doses of sleeping pills. However, her suicide attempt was interrupted when her friend (María Barranco) knocked on her door for help after realizing that she was involved in terrorists who wanted to hijack a plane. And while Pepa was gone and her friend was left to guard the apartment, a couple (Antonio Banderas, Rossy de Palma) knocked on the door to decide if they wanted to rent Pepa’s place. Everything about this movie was so absurd but it was so much fun to watch because it was incredibly unpredictable. And what’s better was the fact that it was easy to tell that the actors were having so much fun in their roles. As much as the movie was comedic on the outside, it really was about the connections between the quirky and eccentric characters unique to Almodóvar’s world. Having seen Almodóvar’s recent works from the 1990s to the 2000s, it was easy for me to recognize certain motifs such as the use of color, strange coincidences and strong women willing to fight for what they believed in. In relation to the last bit, I was in love with that scene when one of the characters discussed the relationship between understanding bikes and understanding the psychology of men. I thought that scene summed up the picture with such elegance because the story was essentially about four women obsessing over men and the outer and inner conflicts they had to go through to be loved in return. My main problem with this film, however, like in a lot of Almodóvar’s movies, was its pacing slowed down a bit somewhere in the middle. But I think it’s only a matter of taste that one can get used to over time as one watches more movies from the director. It’s not at all difficult to be enveloped into the story because the lead character was always doing something purposeful and she was willing to engage in conversations that were witty and sometimes confrontational. A lot of people may think “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” was over-the-top but that’s what makes a great farce. It’s like watching a telenovela with characters that range from harmless but annoying to dangerously psychotic. It was definitely campy but it had a creative postmodern romance that I rarely see (and would like to see more) in cinema these days.