Sunday, December 5, 2010

Jamón, jamón - English Language Review

Jamón, jamón
(Spain, 1992)

Directed by: Bigas Luna
Starring: Stefania Sandrelli, Anna Galiena, Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Jordi Mollà

Rating: 3/5

Also known as "A Tale of Ham and Passion", this movie has earned some retrospective fame because it features Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem at the beginning of their careers and we get to see them 'doing it'. The plot is pretty complicated, as it follows several inhabitants of a small Spanish town, including the owner of an underwear factory, his wife, their son, the local whore who also owns a bar, her daughter and a young man who works as a ham delivery boy. And everybody has sex with almost everybody else. And in the end, one of them dies.

Now, I didn't care too much for the ending and I don't think this is a good movie by any standards, but I did find it very entertaining. For once, it's very nicely photographed, in full, vivid colors (the red on Penélope's dress and other significant objects) and taking advantage of the over-exposured caused by shooting in a desert area. There are visual motifs that repeat themselves throughout the movie, but they're mostly phallic or testicular metaphors. This movie is genuinely odd, as it seems to jump from one story/scene to another without bothering with too much exposition (or closure, for that matter). It's also quite funny at times, and Bardem's macho persona is hilarious. There's also a lot of sex in this movie, maybe too much, at times, as it distracts from the plot (which becomes thinner as we advance towards the ending). I wasn't convinced by many of the performances, especially not by Stefania Sandrelli's. But Anna Galiena is great as the former stripper/prostitute, now restaurant owner, who also sleeps with her daughter's fiancée and Penélope Cruz is charming as always. 

It occured to me after I finished the film that it may have several homages to Bunuel. The crane shot at the end looks like something from "Simon of the Desert" and there's definitely some contempt for the bourgeoisie in here. Also, there are at least three very surreal scenes: one of them has Bardem's character and his friend bullfighting naked under the moonlight; the second one is a erotic scene involving Anna Galiena and the (somewhat) younger Jordi Mollà, in which she imitates a parrot and there's a highly titillating (but also kinda creepy) extreme close-up of her lips as she does the squawking noises; and, finally, there's an unsettling nightmare sequence that seems taken right out of "Un chien andalou".

I recommend "Jamón, jamón" cautiously, as a genuinely strange and beautiful film, although many viewers may be put off by the weak performances and the contrived plot. I think it has enough humor, balls (literal and metaphorical ones), charm and craziness to balance some of its shortcomings.

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