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Return to Table of Contents August 2007 Return to Table of Contents
Sunshine
DVD Playback
Sergio Leone
Matador
The Chocolate War
ASC Close-Up
Matador (1986)
1.85:1 (16x9 Enhanced)
Dolby Digital Monaural
Sony Pictures Home
Entertainment, $117.95 (Viva Pedro boxed set)



In a key scene in Pedro Almodvar’s brazen thriller Matador, beautiful, high-powered attorney Maria (Assumpta Serna) sits in her car applying lipstick on a steamy afternoon in Madrid. In her mirror, she catches a glimpse of a sinister man whom she hopes is following her. He is. Maestro Diego Montes (Nacho Martinez), a retired matador who now teaches aspiring bullfighters, is infatuated with Maria, and follows her into a movie theater where Duel in the Sun is playing. During the final sequences of the torrid melodrama, Maria and Diego exchange smoldering glances and comments, then flee to his mansion. There, among Diego’s matador paraphernalia, these two sexual predators begin a dark and passionate affair.

Both are obsessive-compulsive murderers; he is sexually aroused by killing some of his female students, and she, a longtime fan of his, emulates his deft bull-killing skills on unsuspecting young men. They make a great match, but their affair is complicated by one thing: Maria is representing one of Diego’s students, Angel (Antonio Banderas), who has turned himself in for attempting to rape Diego’s girlfriend, Eva (Eva Cobo). Filled with shame and self-hatred, Angel begins to boast that he has killed the women who have disappeared from his matador class and buried them in Diego’s garden. With several women missing, young men turning up dead, and a confused Angel claiming to be responsible, the local detectives know something doesn’t add up. Fortunately, an imminent solar eclipse will present the key to all of these mysteries.

Unusual plot devices, over-the-top melodrama, and exotic sexual obsessions are all trademarks of Almodvar’s work, but his acute sense of visual style and his flair for light and color are perhaps his most acclaimed gifts. Matador, his sixth feature, has a rich color scheme that favors violent, passionate reds, ranging from Diego’s alluring cape to Maria’s provocative lipstick. To make the film, Almodvar turned to cinematographer ngel Luiz Fernndez, AEC, who had previously shot four of his features, including Dark Habits and Labyrinth of Passion. Matador’s lighting scheme, while generally soft and romantic, is filled with noirish shadows that help underscore the sense of danger and intrigue.

This passionate, beguiling cult film has been unavailable for U.S. home screens for several years, existing only in scarce VHS and laserdisc versions. It recently made its Stateside DVD debut in Sony’s boxed set Viva Pedro: The Almodvar Collection. (It is not for sale as a single title.) This picture transfer is the best home-video version to date, a marked improvement over the cheaply pressed laserdisc and the Region 2 DVD released in Europe, both of which suffered from poor contrast and muted colors. This new DVD fully fleshes out Fernandez’s layered reds and warm shadows, and although red is a color often plagued with chroma noise problems in the digital domain, Sony has done a good job of re-creating the correct image balance; there is barely a trace of chroma noise in the deepest hues.

Slightly tight framing of the 1.85:1 image trims a sliver of picture information — a flaw that was also present on the laserdisc and European DVD. Although this flaw is seldom noticeable during the feature presentation, it slightly crops the end titles. The monaural soundtrack is solid and seems free of age-related wear.

The Matador disc includes no supplements, but the boxed set in which it is packaged contains a DVD of worthy bonus material. In addition to a smattering of trailers for upcoming Sony releases, there are three well-developed documentary featurettes about Almodvar’s work: the 51-minute “Deconstructing Almodvar,” the 27-minute “Directed by Almodvar,” and the 24-minute “Viva Pedro.” Each includes substantive interviews with actors and key crew, who speak to numerous aspects of the director’s unique vision. Film scholar Richard Peña also offers interesting conjecture.

Matador was eclipsed by the popularity and critical acclaim of Almodvar’s followup feature, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, but it has attracted a loyal following over the years, and fans who have long awaited this DVD will not be disappointed. The reasonably priced Viva Pedro set offers seven other features, including another DVD first, the erotic comedy Law of Desire. Also included are the previously issued DVDs The Flower of My Secret, Live Flesh, Talk to Her and Bad Education, and remastered editions of Women on the Verge and All About My Mother. Full of romance and eroticism, kaleidoscopic imagery and unpredictable characterizations, this terrific cross-section of Almodvar’s oeuvre is a wonderful addition to any DVD collection.


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