Category Archives: Javier Bardem

Extasis (1996)

“Love and Need, I get them confused sometimes, don’t you?”

I always enjoy watching Javier Bardem on screen. Whether he’s a robotic psycho No Country For Old Men or the beleaguered telephone sex operator in Mouth to Mouth, he’s always interesting. Perhaps it’s because he looks brutish but really isn’t or perhaps it’s because he was an Almodovar star. No matter.

When I saw Extasis (aka Ecstasy)–an early Bardem film from director Mariano Barroso on netflix, well I knew I had to watch it. The fact that it also stars veteran Argentinean star Frederico Luppi made Extasis an even more attractive proposition. extasis

The film concerns three young friends: Ona (Leire Berrocal), Max (Daniel Guzman) and Rober (Javier Bardem). The three have a wildly impractical idea of opening a bar on the beach, and of course, the only thing inhibiting their plans for the Good Life is the lack of money. The three friends decide to solve this little problem by stealing from their families. Ona helps hold up her family’s shop, and Rober plans to rob an uncle, but Max is estranged from his wealthy play-director father, Daniel (Frederico Luppi).

A chain of events–which I am not going to detail–leads Rober to impersonate Max and then approach Daniel as his long-lost father.

Now the thing is that Daniel is phenomenally wealthy. I don’t mean just well-off, he’s rolling in dough. His home is loaded with antiques and valuables, but it goes beyond that. Daniel is also a celebrity, bedding a much younger actress, Lola (Silvia Bunt), and the star guest at swanky parties. Rober, posing as Max, discovers that being the son of a famous man opens doors to a life he never thought possible. There’s one scene when Daniel takes Rober to the jewelers and tells him to pick out anything he wants. Rober’s face lights up, and he stares at the window before selecting a watch. Rober looks like a kid at Xmas, and that means Daniel must be Santa. Once Rober is ensconced in the sumptuous home of his ‘father’ Daniel, he takes to the good life with gusto, and meanwhile Daniel, enjoying his son’s more unpleasant characteristics,  thinks his hunky new son is a chip off the old block. Which direction will Rober’s loyalties ultimately take? Such wealth and such a glittering life would be a seductive proposition for anyone. The question is: will Rober be seduced?

Extasis starts as a crime caper film but then very quickly morphs into a much more interesting film. While Ona and Max are prepared to rob their families to get the bankroll for their fantasy bar, Rober’s parents are noticeably absent. All we see is an uncle. Robbing the families has a practical goal (getting money), but it goes deeper than that. By robbing their families, Ona, and Max are declaring their loyalties to each other while they sever their blood ties. But what of Rober? He apparently doesn’t have parents to betray. Does this lack of immediate family make him more vulnerable to a generous new daddy?

Extasis for about 90% of the film is excellent drama, but the plot takes a dive once Max appears back on the scene. The ending could have taken so many directions, and unfortunately the script takes the worst direction, the one I had the hardest time believing. I had already had to ask myself if Daniel, who isn’t a particularly nice person, would have accepted an adult son (the real one or the pretend one) so easily. Would Daniel take on a son he’s ignored into his life? Well I accepted that Daniel does invite Rober into his life, but then the film strains credibility with the silly direction the plot takes towards the end of the film. Daniel is not an idiot, and there are times when he seems to be playing a double game, but the film unfortunately doesn’t explore this thread and takes the silly way out. Visually, the film includes some gorgeous scenes–in particular, there’s one scene at night with a car driving and the street lights are reflected in the rain. Gorgeous shot.

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Second Skin (1999)

 Spanish love triangle

In the Spanish film Second Skin Elena (Ariadna Gil) is happily married to Alberto (Jordi Molla). Well, at least she thinks she’s happily married until she begins to sense that something is wrong in the relationship. Elena tries discussing the problem, but Alberto consistently denies that anything is wrong. Elena discovers hotel receipts in her husband’s pocket, and she confronts hims about an affair and ‘the other woman.’Alberto admits having an affair, but his new relationship is with another man, and he hides this from Elena.

second-skinThe acting in this fine Spanish soap opera is good. However, the character of Alberto is a bit problematic. The main dilemma in the film is not the affair, or the crumbling marriage, but whether or not Alberto can accept his homosexuality. He is torn between his wife, (he still claims to love her), and his new passion, Diego (Javier Bardem). While Alberto struggles to accept his homosexuality, his torment also can unfortunately be interpreted as insincerity as he weasely darts back and forth between his wife (who’s trying hard to understand), and Diego, who is confident and strong under adversity. The rock-solid characters of Elena and Javier serve as a contrast to Alberto’s uncertainty, despair, and fear, but the very nature of the love triangle places Alberto on shaky ground, and this was detrimental to the film’s central idea. Consequently, Alberto appears to be a less-sympathetic character, and more of a weasel than was perhaps intended. Javier Bardem is the Spanish version of George Clooney, and it’s always a pleasure to see him in a role. Also special note here for Cecilia Roth as Diego’s smitten work-mate. Directed by Gerardo Vera.

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Mouth to Mouth (1995)

“There are a lot of repressed men–all with phones.”

In the Spanish comedy, Mouth to Mouth Victor Ventura has dreamed of becoming an actor since boyhood. As a pizza delivery driver in Madrid, he waits for his big break, but after a run of bad luck, he turns to ‘Hot Line’ –a telephone–I’ll euphemistically call it–entertainment operation run by a mother and son team. After telling himself that “rich guys get turned on by labourers”, Victor uses Robert De Niro for inspiration and soon becomes a natural in the world of adult telephone entertainment.

Victor (known as Salvador at the Hot Line) picks up a regular male customer known as Bill. Victor also breaks the rules and becomes rather intimately involved with another caller who calls herself Amanda. Suddenly Victor finds himself up to his neck in intrigue–there’s a femme fatale, a murder plot, and a multi-million dollar film.

Javier Bardem stars as Victor, and this role was created before Bardem became a recognizable name in Hollywood. Actually, I prefer Mouth to Mouth to any other film Bardem has made. He’s got great comedic talent, and his facial features naturally lend themselves to being cast as the innocent, guileless fall guy. Several times during Mouth to Mouth, Victor auditions for roles and comes off very credibly as the nervous wannabe performing an atrocious Broadway number, the foul-mouthed tough guy, and the great Latin Lover. He switches between characters and makes it look easy. When Victor takes his first phone call at the Hot Line he calls on all his acting talent to help him ‘save’ the call, and the scene is really well done. The culture of the Hot Line office is particularly amusing, and some of the calls are hilarious.

Mouth to Mouth almost has the feel of an Almodovar film–but this is mainly due to pacing and the character of Victor’s agent, the semi-hysterical and babbling Angela. However, Mouth to Mouth is essentially a comedy and verves firmly away from the darker philosophical issues that Almodovar often wrestles with. Mouth to Mouth is a great foreign comedy, and I think most people could easily relate to its universal humour. Directed by Manuel Gomez Pereira.

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Golden Balls (1993)

 “I married her for money. She’s an investment.”

Golden Balls DVDIn Bigas Luna’s film Golden Balls Benito Gonzalez (Javier Bardem) is a loutish, crude Spanish construction worker with ambitious plans to build the tallest building in the city. The film begins in Morocco, and Benito’s relationship with the lithe Rita (Elisa Tovati) is about to end badly. Benito–who’s not the sensitive sort–moves on to bigger and better things, and when the film picks up the story again, Benito is now back in Spain, the owner of a construction company assisted by Rita’s brother Mosca (Francisco Casares).

Even though Benito now has his foot on the first rung of the ladder to success, his character continues to trip him up. His construction company is on the brink of bankruptcy. He works without permits, breaking the rules along the way to his ambition to build the Gonzalez Tower (with its own massage parlour)–a homage to his ego, and also, the film makes clear–a giant phallic symbol. When Benito runs out of money, he manipulates his latest love, secretary and would-be actress Claudia (Maribel Verdu) into sleeping with an influential banker, and when that plan fails, he marries the banker’s naive daughter, Marta (Maria de Medieros).

Golden Balls is the story of the rise and inevitable fall of Benito–a second rate Lothario whose machismo-ridden character brings success but also destroys him. Bigas Luna’s film is a wry sexual farce that examines Benito’s progress in the world as he uses the women in his life to get ahead. A devotee of Julio Iglesias, who’s fond of Karaoke, when Benito finally gets money, his crass, lavish lifestyle includes two Rolex watches and his fulfilled dream of possessing his very own lobster tank. Similarly, the women in Benito’s life are also his possessions. Believing he “moves better” with a woman with an ideal weight of 94 lbs, he obsesses about their weights. While his motto is “always be generous with women and politicians” in reality, to Benito that sometimes translates to promising women their own bidets.

Javier Bardem fans will enjoy this sly film and its characterization of the larger-than-life Benito and his equally disproportionate ego. I’ve seen a couple of different covers for this DVD, and on my copy, Bardem is depicted grabbing his crotch; that just about says it all for his character. With over-the-top phallic symbolism, Bigas Luna charts Benito’s clumsy progress through Spanish society and his goal to “move in a different sphere.” Ultimately, Golden Balls shows that whatever sphere of society we may move to, we take our characters along with us–for better or for worse. Keep your eyes open for Benicio Del Toro in a small role. In Spanish with subtitles.

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Filed under Bigas Luna, Javier Bardem, Spain