Matador (1986)

Director: Pedro Almodovar

Stars: Nacho Martínez, Antonio Banderas, Assumpta Serna, Eva Cobo, Carmen Maura

Release Company: Sony Pictures Classics

MPAA Rating: NC-17

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Pedro Almodovar: Matador


In his 1986 Matador, Pedro Almodovar offers a provocative metaphor that demonstrates the machismo associated with sexuality—aggressive conquest equated with ritualistic violence. Throughout the film, Almodovar associates the two—including an opening sequence showing former matador Diego Montes (Nacho Martinez) masturbating while viewing a bloody horror film, a predatory stalking and attempted rape, and a montage that juxtaposes bullfighting with a human murder.

With bullfighting career prematurely ended due to injury, Diego Montes instructs students on the art of the kill, emphasizing how this must be beautifully rendered cleanly between the shoulder blades. Immediately after this lecture Almodovar switches to a darkly clad woman who similarly stalks a young man, luring him to her apartment where they engage in sexual activity. As they begin intercourse, the woman draws a long ornamental needle and plunges it into the nape of the man's neck—killing him. This makes for a rather surreal beginning, but it's much more straightforward than you find in Bunuel's universe.

Supersensitive, naïve, and romantic Angel (Antonio Banderas) lingers after class and follows his mentor to his home for a drink of water. An unlikely candidate for bullfighting, Angel is drawn to Diego … and hints of homoeroticism surface. Immediately defensive when Diego queries him about women, Angel decides to prove his masculinity by stalking Diego's lover Eva (Eva Cobo)—very much like the method he's been taught to conquer a bull, but the final "kill" remains elusive. Note: Angel's mentor Diego can only successfully perform when his partner feigns death.

Humiliated, Angel confesses his rape to the police, however, Eva refuses to press charges. Angel then confesses to serial murders when he sees photographs of the bloody bodies in the police station. This sets up Almodovar's signature character entanglement common to romantic comedies (but only containing touches of dark humor while dealing with more serious themes). Add to the mix, Angel's attractive and sexy lawyer Maria (Assumpta Sema), who we've seen during the opening sequence. She is also attached to Diego in multiple ways.

Almodovar serves this as cinematic allegory, provoking his characters to act without revealing their motivations, nor does he sketch in the backstory for believability. For this he relies on metaphor and symbols—Angel's mind wanders in the clouds and an impending eclipse foretells the denouement of "star crossed lovers." Unlike the more nuanced character study of Law of Desire (also starring Martinez and Banderas), Matador aims for broader themes dealing with sexual obsessio—treading similar terrain as Bunuel, only bloodier and simpler. The film follows a bizarre, but ultimately logical path that casts a sardonic view towards romantic love that is well worth checking out.


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