Jamón Jamón

(Bigas Luna, Spain, 1992)


It is astonishing that Spanish director Bigas Luna is not better known in English-speaking film cultures. Even within his homeland he is sometimes regarded suspiciously: an internationalist who makes surreal entertainments mixing garrulous American stars with flamboyant Spanish stereotypes.

It is as if his films belong nowhere precisely, neither in European art cinema nor the commercial world cinema. But Luna is a true original, whose cult deserves to grow much larger.

Although Jamón Jamón is the first of Luna's films to be released theatrically in Australia (to a decidedly mixed response), two of his very odd, utterly captivating earlier works have been available on video for several years. Reborn (1984) with Dennis Hopper is a key movie of its decade, a riveting exploration of religious fundamentalist mania.

Anguish (1987) boasts the most audacious film-within-a-film conceit I have ever seen: in it, a horror movie about a madman killing audience members during a film screening hypnotizes one of its viewers into doing exactly the same thing synchronously, in the theatre where he is sitting!

Jamón Jamón is typical Luna fare: a wild melodrama of family, sex and capital presented in strictly formalised terms, like a conceptual artwork. There is more than a touch of Almodóvar in the twisting plot which keeps reshuffling six characters in various erotic permutations. Silvia (Penélope Cruz), daughter of a prostitute, is involved with the son of industrialist Conchita (Stefania Sandrelli). The ultra-macho Raúl (Javier Bardem) is hired to come between the young lovers, unleashing a torrent of tragedy.

Luna has waxed on about "portraying the Spanish soul" in this film but, as usual, his flair for narrative exaggeration and his overripe cinematic style happily outrun any trite, schematic intention.

Before very long, Jamón Jamón becomes a dreamy blur of motifs and metaphors repeated, combined and inverted: foodstuffs, genitalia, automobiles, animals of all sorts. It's not great, but it's an outrageous, intoxicating film.

© Adrian Martin July 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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