A Brief Commentary on Pedro Almodóvar’s ‘Live Flesh’ (1997)

There is something intrinsically intriguing about symmetrical films which force their audiences to participate alongside the action, as opposed to merely observing a series of intertwining events unfolding in front of their eyes. Though two very distinct and altogether uniquely different auteurs, one cannot help but compare Pedro Almodóvar to the likes of Alfred Hitchcock when analyzing Live Flesh. Now, before we delve deeper into the obsessive melodrama crafted by Almodovar, allow me to give a brief summary of the work.

The year is 1970 in which a plump and pregnant prostitute (Penélope Cruz) finds herself giving birth to her son Victor in an almost empty city bus within the slums of Madrid, Spain. Despite her resistant efforts, the new-born baby boy impatiently makes his way out into the cruel world, unprepared for his entrance. Years later, fancying his own prostitute, Elena, his efforts to seduce her prove futile as she rejects his offer in means of scoring a drug deal elsewhere. This conflict sparks a fight which will soon call the attention of a cop-duo including David (Javier Bardem), a hard-working cop set out to do what is within his moral code of conduct. As they intrude in the scene, Victor feels threatened, pulling out a gun. A single gun shot changes the lives of every single character in this room. David becomes paralyzed, ultimately pursuing a career in the Paralympics as a basketball phenomenon, Elena decides to leave her past behind, becoming the founder of a school for disadvantaged children, while Victor is sent off to jail for a crime provoked by David’s partner, the drunk and jealous cop, seeking revenge over David’s affair with his wife. The story goes on, but the summary shall stop here.

Earlier, I compared Almodóvar with Hitchcock due mainly to their similarity in crafting a story around their audience’s participation in it. Details and mysteries slowly unfold only if the audience is attentively focused on the picture. Nothing is granted to them, but rather offered. With Live Flesh, the film ends just as it began. The mastery this film exemplifies is demonstrated through the character revelations depicted in the story. Each individual slowly adapts to new environments and new ordeals. As events take their course, Almodóvar gradually shapes his characters around the circumstances they find themselves in. The audience is, thus, given a portrait of symmetrical balance.

All of these characters are, in a way, equal. None are good or bad, but rather composites of both forces. People are not morally definable sources of morality, but rather the circumstances and chances their lives have fallen within seems to hold a greater root for the good or bad qualities attributed to each and every individual. The city of Madrid seems to serve as a microcosm for the greater state of our own detrimental affairs. That is to say, throughout the film Madrid is always looked at as a place to escape. One must leave the city in order to find happiness and fulfillment. However, these characters are forever entangled within the lives of one another due to the consequences put forth by one night. Rather than the setting or the people being to blame, it is the accumulation of both those facets: the action brought forth by pulling a trigger has an undying affect that echoes through the eternities of countless lives. Pedro Almodóvar’s Live Flesh, thus, serves as a crucial study examining the affects a single action may bring in causing the transformation of a plethora of characters’ lives, whether for seemingly good results, or actually bad ones.

Thank you for reading,

Omar Antonio Iturriaga