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‘Pepi, Luci, Bom’ (NR)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 24, 1992

Initially a filmmaker of outrageous, taboo-tweaking fare, Pedro Almodovar in recent work has become -- of all things -- fatuous and almost conventional. The Spanish director of "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" is now repeddling himself, with repetitious, campy tributes to the schlock Hollywood fare of the 1950s.

But before all that, he was experimenting -- and it wasn't pretty. "Pepi, Luci, Bom," one of his first films (made in 1980), is shoddy and amateurish, the sophomoric excess of a neophyte who loves to shock. A series of screen provocations, including frank and degrading sexual acts, it's designed primarily to jolt the viewer.

To the extent the story matters, heiress Pepi (Carmen Maura) is raped one day by an unscrupulous cop. But she isn't horrified at the personal violation. She's upset because she had been saving her virginity for a higher bidder. She gets her punk buddies to beat up the cop -- but they beat up his twin brother instead.

Undaunted, Pepi befriends the policeman's meek wife, Luci (Eva Siva), and sets her up with young Bom (Olvido Gara), a bullying lesbian punk rocker. But there's a twist! Luci may be pliable but she just happens to abound with unfulfilled masochistic desires. Pepi's revenge ploy becomes a match made in heaven. Right around this time, the movie -- graphic depictions notwithstanding -- grinds to a halt.

The best way to get through this (if indeed you go) is to shake your head with disbelieving laughter. Specific acts cannot be mentioned here, but their shock value -- by the movie's low standards -- can be passingly amusing. This is John Waters fare with a Spanish accent. The trouble is, even gross-out flicks need some sort of narrative piloting. This has none.

It is possible, if merely academic, to see the roots of Almodovar's career flamboyancy. This movie (blown up to 35mm from its original 16mm) displays indirect foreshadowings of his later, greater offerings, such as "Dark Habits," "Law of Desire" and "Matador." However, in those works, he employed the outrageous (murder, rape, heroin addiction, etc.) in the higher service of societal satire. Here, he just employs the outrageous. It's hard to isolate the budding artist, far easier to see a mischievous boy with his first stink bomb.

PEPI, LUCI, BOM (Unrated) -- In Spanish with subtitles.

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