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‘Jamon Jamon’ (NR)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 23, 1993

"Jamon Jamon" is a modern-day, male-driven variant of "Like Water for Chocolate," in which Spanish filmmaker Bigas Luna links an hombre's studliness to a diet rich in pork. A coarse muddle of melodrama, romance and cautionary tale, the film is chiefly a tribute to throbbing Latin manhood, as cretinous and sophomoric as it is pretentiously surreal.

"Jamon Jamon" means "Ham Ham." Smoked hocks are a favorite food of the resident hunk, Raul (Javier Bardem), a would-be bullfighter and underwear model who seems afflicted with a pretty bad case of jock itch. He doesn't so much act as adjust and scratch. Raul, a ham delivery man, becomes involved in a mother's scheme to discredit her son's unsuitable fiancee.

Luna, who both co-wrote and directed, gets to the point quickly with an opening close-up of a bull's testicles. They swing from a flimsy billboard-size bull replica at the edge of a little town known for curing hams and manufacturing men's undies. (Maybe that's why all the men in town seem to be carrying hams in their pants.)

Beneath the mighty beast, Jose Luis (Jordi Molla) nuzzles upon the 19-year-old Silvia (Penelope Cruz), to whom he proposes after learning of her pregnancy. Jose Luis's mother, Conchita (Stefania Sandrelli), objects because Sylvia is the daughter of the town whore. To break up the engagement, Conchita hires Raul to make love to her son's succulent fiancee.

Raul, whom Conchita discovered at an audition for underpants models, is certainly equipped for the job, but at first Silvia is not interested. In the meantime, Conchita becomes involved with Raul herself, while her son seeks solace with Silvia's mother.

The makings of a bedroom farce now seem in place, but the film is ultimately a klunky tragedy involving death by ham hock. This ludicrous turn of events comes about as a result of Silvia's sexual relationship with her fiance's weary father. She may only be 19, but Silvia is already looser than an old shoe. Like the other women -- and men for that matter -- of "Jamon Jamon," she's not so much a character as a talking sex organ.

Luna doesn't really have anything much to say about the relationship between men and women in his culture, nor does he demonstrate a sense of style or vision. Basically, his film is soft pornography with its nose in the air.

"Jamon Jamon" contains sex, nudity and vulgar language. It is not rated. In Spanish with English subtitles.

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