Even his most hetero movies have always been fiestas of gay theatricality. But in Live Flesh (Goldwyn), writer-director-actor-producer-interior decorator Pedro Almodovar -- the Spanish John Waters, the creator of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! -- goes straighter, and deeper, than we've ever seen him. Dios mio, after 20 years of rainbow-hued kitsch and camp, he's controlled, reflective. Indeed, in Live Flesh Almodovar is positively mature, adapting a novel by Ruth Rendell so deftly that the plot now also describes the invigorating and sometimes disorienting effects of democracy after long years of repression under the Franco regime.
Liberto Rabal stars as Victor -- born on a bus to a prostitute in the last days of the dictatorship and now a young man as free and fallible as the modern Madrid in which he lives -- who becomes embroiled in the lives of two couples. More specifically, he's just done jail time, having been wrongly accused of shooting and paralyzing a cop. But with the wounded officer (handsome Javier Bardem) now married to the diplomat's daughter (Francesca Neri) Victor was attempting to sweet-talk when the tragic kerfuffle took place, the bitter ex-con begins an affair with the wife (Angela Molina) of the cop's partner (Pepe Sancho). Squint at the sinuous plot and you may see a similarity to Afterglow, with its mathematically satisfying romantic do-si-do. But one gander at the resplendent costumes, one eyeful of the fabulous interiors (especially the wheelchair-accessible urban palace of the hero cop and his trophy wife), one earful from the passionate actors, and you know you're not in Kansas anymore: This is still, most assuredly, Almodovar country. Ole! B+ -- LS
Live Flesh STARRING Liberto Rabal Angela Molina RATED R 91 MINUTES