Matador (1986)

Matador film poster.

Matador (1986)
Compañía Iberoamericana de TV
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
110 min

Almodovar’s fifth feature length film, Matador, was distributed internationally after his film Law of Desire (1986). Co-produced in conjunction with Andre Vincent Gomez’s Iberoamericana Films and RTVE, Spanish State Television, the subsidies from the government film office comprised Almodovar’s largest budget to date. Gomez believed in the strength of Spanish export and his relationship with Almodovar was well-timed for collaboration on the production of Matador. Spain’s cultural identity was erratically changing. The initial wave of freedom was snowballing and sedating conservative reactions towards taboo subject matter. Topics such as patriarchal dominance and sexual identity were becoming more acceptable to explore in Spanish art and media. Almodovar was among those becoming a sounding board for redefining the landscape of art for the country.

In Matador, Almodovar employs abstract story devices. The opening credits are bright red and fill the screen with clips of Herschel Gordon Lewis-style gore movies on a television screen. A middle-aged man sits in a big yellow chair masturbating. The man masturbating to the extreme violence is Diego (Nacho Martinez), the matador. Angel (Antonio Banderas) is a student bullfighter under his tutelage. Toward the beginning of the film, Angel and Diego discuss Angel’s disinclination towards violence and the problems that it causes with his desire to become a bullfighter. Diego asks Angel, respectfully, if he has ever considered the possibility he might be gay. Incensed, Angel plans to rape Diego’s girlfriend Eva Solder (Eva Cobo). While this is going on, the audience becomes aware of a series of murders taking place around Madrid. Angel turns himself into the police for the attempted rape, and it comes out that no actual violation has occurred, Angel begins copping to the murders he did not commit. His knowledge of the murders relates to some sort of undefined psychic knowledge. Maria (Assumpta Serna) enters the plot having long been obsessed with Diego. Both Maria and Diego share a fascination with death and begin an affair.

On paper, some of the coincidences employed in the film appear unrealistic, but in Almodovar’s early works, Madrid is a small city where the rich and repressed are obliged to intermingle with the city’s wilder eccentrics. The introduction of surrealistic elements such as psychic abilities and noir-style murder present new depth to the arsenal of his plot devices and intermingle nicely into the framework of Matador. While Almodovar’s films are largely wild and anarchic up to this point, Matador induces a certain maturing in the director’s realm of calculated fun. As the mystery of Matador is about to be solved, the entire cast stops to watch an eclipse. It is a strange scene—out of context with the rest of the movie—and a surreal version of the humor that had been prevalent in his earlier films. It is also an indicator of the subtle brand of humor he employs. The diegetic world developed in his films negate the unreasonable. – (Billups Allen)

Billups Allen’s full article about Almodóvar published by Razorcake Magazine can be downloaded here: Pedro Almodóvar.

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