Written by: Casey Powers
Directed By: Pedro Almodóvar
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Assumpta Serna, and Nacho Martínez.
For those of you unaware, Pedro Almodóvar is an infamous Spanish writer/director. He started off making low budget, dirty, shock schlock. He is often stated as being the Spanish equivalent of John Waters. And while Almodóvar has taken to higher end films in recent years, his early career is marked by seediness. Matador falls somewhere in between these two eras. And while almost every Almodóvar film transcends a genre, Matador is one of his closest to being a full on horror film, even if it isn’t presented as one.
The movie starts off with Diego (Nacho Matínez) masturbating to a slasher film where women are violently killed, as you do. Diego is a former matador who was forced to retire after he was gored and almost killed by a bull. Since then Diego has taken to teaching bullfighting to a new generation. However, Diego’s brush with death gave him a sexual attraction to it. His obsession with death has become so great that he has killed two of his female students he was attracted to.
The movie also follows lawyer María (Assumpta Serna) who had a crush on Diego while he was a matador, and was there the day he almost died. Since seeing Diego’s goring, she too has developed a sexual obsession with death. She has started seducing men and then murdering them in the middle of sex.
Mixed up in all of this is Ángel (Antonio Banderas), a student in Diego’s bullfighting class. Ángel feels that he is not really a man because he is a twenty something virgin and faints at the sight of blood. Ángel will do anything to prove he is a man from attempting to rape his teacher’s girlfriend, to taking credit for the murders of both Diego and María. How does Ángel know about these murders, you ask? Well, he has psychic visions that let him see all violent acts within a 100 mile radius. Things get even more twisted when María agrees to defend Ángel pro bono. Add in these three and a lot of memorable side characters and you have one hell of a film.
This might seem like a lot to take in, but it makes sense in the context of the film. The movie doesn’t follow a single main character but jumps around from multiple points of view. And while I have faulted films in the past for not having a solid main character, Matador makes it work because of the interconnectedness of the stories. Each character has a strong motivation and when they coincide it feels natural and real.
Almodóvar does an excellent job making you feel for each character. Even though we are following murders and rapists, we never dislike them. In fact we often find ourselves cheering for them. Only a handful of filmmakers can make you empathize with people who do such awful things, and even fewer can actually do it in such a tasteful way that you don’t even realize you’re doing it.
This film, despite its abrasive subject matter, is filled with remarkable imagery and themes. It really makes you wonder what it means to be a human. Does being a murderer make you a monster? Are you a member of another species? Is it possible to be a good person who does terrible things? These are questions that the film poses but it doesn’t answer them. Instead it leaves it up to the audience to make their own judgments.
Also the cinematography in this film is stupendous. The movie makes use of every bright blood red color it can find, as well as having flowing elegant capes and high fashion that helps to accent the film’s themes. This film can be summed up in one single word. Beautiful.
And there might be some who doubt Matador’s status as a horror film. For those people I have to say, while there might not be any scares or jumps like in most horror films, this movie’s themes of death, murder, blood, and the love of death, murder, and blood fit right into the horror world. I mean, the title literally means ‘killer.’ The movie’s challenging of social norms and what it means to be a good person can also be described as nothing less than horrific. But it also makes it captivating.
I believe that everyone, especially film fans, should see at least one Almodóvar before they die. His films cover a wide range of taboo or dirty topics, and question humanity and morality as a whole. There are no easy answers in his film. They challenge us in a way that only art can. And while I consider all of film making an art, few convey it as such in the same way as Almodóvar.
I should also add that this film is NC-17, although there isn’t anything in here that is worse than you would see in a lot of mainstream R films in the States. This movie is also in Spanish and utilizes sub-titles. If that is the type of thing that bothers you, then shame on you! It’s time to broaden your horizons. Go watch some foreign films! Starting with this one!