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‘High Heels’

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 20, 1991


Pedro Almodovar
Victoria Abril;
Marisa Paredes;
Miguel Bose
sensuality and language

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When the early films by the Spanish director Pedro Almodovar reached this country they were accompanied by the euphoria that comes from the discovery of a major new voice in the cinema. Movies like "What Have I Done to Deserve This?," "Matador" and "Law of Desire" were a blast of rude perversity, an outrageous, lurid, stiletto-edged new chapter in the annuals of camp. The impact of these brash, original films was liberating and corrosive; they had a never-before-seen quality of unleashed passions, like a scandalous gas leak from the naked id.

Those woozy earlier movies were a dangerous walk on the wild side; you felt that real taboos were being shattered. Almodovar's latest film, "High Heels," has none of that jolting, unexpurgated irreverence. It's bright and spunky and playfully melodramatic, but something's missing. The movie is a vamp on Hollywood weepers like "Mildred Pierce"; it's like a castaway from the back of Joan Crawford's shoe closet. But there's no heat or urgency in the filmmaking. The story, which features a murderous love triangle among a celebrity mom (Marisa Paredes), her resentful daughter (Victoria Abril), and the daughter's husband -- and the mother's former lover (Feodor Atkine) -- is completely lacking in tension. Emotionally, it's slack.

What's strangest of all is that instead of taking off on the kinky comic potential beneath the surface of his turgid Hollywood models, Almodovar plays his material straight. There's a strange twist here and there, mostly involving the daughter's female impersonator friend, Femme Lethal (Miguel Bose), but the unfolding of the drama is perplexingly flat. From his earlier tastes, you can understand why Almodovar would be drawn to this genre; on the face of it, the match seems perfect. But, watching "High Heels" you can't feel his connection to the films he's paying homage to. It unspools as if it hadn't actually been touched by the director's transforming hand. And, as a result, it feels more like a prosaic knockoff than a classically inspired original. You simply can't figure out why he bothered.

"High Heels" is rated R for sensuality and language.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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