Film is about placement. Almodovar places us in a few interesting places and understands the mechanics enough to overlap them in symphony.
First, his world is one of women (or a male extension of them), always under the guise of performance. Life is a dangerous game whose mechanics trigger death and loss of love, only the most performing performers can make it. He has a deep appreciation for film so he references previous film performers that annotate archetypes for his idea of his characters.
Second, his world is one of film, and he is one of the most eloquent simply in conveying a narrative visually. In fact he is so precise that he works on an entirely stylized level. Just watch how the killing is setup here (just so you don’t miss it, it is accidental), steeped deep in the world of movie-suspense (the aerial shot of the weapon, and the score) down to the presentation of the body before the cleaning.
On this same level of stylization, but on a seperate thread, we have the melodrama. I prefer to call it un-melodrama because as a question of placement it has its shape, but really is exploited for its pull only. Almo’s method is to distance himself from reality enough to find a place between the purely constructed world of film and the emotions and honesty of the characters. Here, he grazes the soul so precisely that it made many in the audience cry, men and women, including my own mother who had figured out the plot twist halfway through. That’s so you know, the story is not the point, but the vessel. What stays with you are the emotional pit stops.
And can we applaud Ms. Cruz for how well she navigates here?
The third level is the symphony, the arrangements, the reference to its own weaving. This is a Spanish thing. Our principal suspect is Cervantes and his Quixote, which is referenced here at the start (so you know what’s about to take place) in the form of the windmills in La Mancha (incidentally where Almo was born). Here, the sails rotate as a strong wind blows. This wind is important. It is what sets the mechanics forth. It is the reason we have a story. Add to that the two instances of ‘fabricated realities’: the story of the ‘ghost’ mother returning, and the presence of a film crew chancing on Ms. Cruz and hiring her as caterer for the duration of the shoot. We never find out what film this crew is actually shooting…but wouldn’t you know by now?
I want to point out the singing performance here. If you look at it cinematically, its placement recalls the bowling scene in Buffalo ’66 which was a film that playfully moved in and out of explicit self-reference. It works in the same way here, but of course the pulls are stronger.
I don’t have a rating system implemented yet, but if I did, I would rank this as one of the best films of 2006, along with The New World which I viewed almost twelve months ago. It was a bad year for film, but these round it up nicely. Hopefully next year will be best with a new Korine, a new Medem, and the Todd Haynes film about Bob Dylan.