Jamón Jamón (1992)
Director: Bigas Luna.
Written by: Bigas Luna & Cuca Canals.
Starring: Javier Bardem, Penélope Cruz, Juan Diego, Ana Galiena, Jordi Mollá, Stefanía Sandrelli.
Language: Spanish (English Subtitles)
If you are looking for a taste of Spain then this is the film for you - literally - with a menu of ham, tortilla and garlic. A surreal black comedy with a healthy dose of sex, male bravado and, of course, bullfighting, it's also love story with a twist... or three.
Jamón Jamón received an impressive six nominations in the 1993 Goya Awards (including Best Film and Best Director) and was the first film in which Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz worked together. Years later, after starring in Vicky Christina Barcelona (2008), they became a couple, got married and now have two children. They also starred together in Live Flesh (1997).
José Luis (Jordi Mollá) is the eldest son of Manuel (Juan Diego) and Conchita (Stefania Sandrelli), proprietors of an underwear factory in rural Spain. They are a well-to-do family, who drive Mercedes, wear pearls and live in a grand house. José Luis has been secretly dating Silvia (Penelope Cruz), a beautiful young woman who works in his parents' factory, and makes tortillas on the side. When Silvia falls pregnant, José Luis vows to marry her; naturally Conchita does not approve and so sets about plotting to break up the couple. She enlists the services of Raul (Javier Bardem), handsome underwear model and ham delivery man, with a love of garlic and a penchant for nude bullfighting, to seduce Silvia.
Silvia, however, remains true to José Luis, in spite of Raul´s advances, and her obvious feelings towards him (demonstrated in true surrealist style through a cryptic dream sequence). Meanwhile, unbeknown to Silvia, José Luis has been paying visits to Carmen (Ana Galiena), Silvia´s mother, in her brothel, where we witness him expressing his Oedipal desires. Meanwhile Conchita similarly indulges Raul, which leads her to cancel the plans to break up Jose Luis and Silvia, and instead conduct an affair with Raul. Unfortunately it's too late: Silvia confesses her love for Raul and breaks off her engagement to José Luis.
Conchita attempts to rectify the situation and cure Silvia of her feelings for Raul by informing her daughter that Raul was paid to seduce her, leading Silvia to seek advice and help from Jose Luis' father Manuel, fearing that Jose Luis will kill Raul. Jose Luis goes to confront Raul and discovers him in bed with his mother, Conchita. Furious, he attacks Raul with half-eaten leg of ham. Defenseless, Raul also picks up a leg of ham, this one uneaten (one must not fail to see the symbolism in the size difference between the two pieces of meat) and an amusing modern-day neanderthal fight ensues between the two men.
The film concludes after the fight, by which point all of the characters have convened - appropriately - at the ham warehouse.
If you can tear your gaze from the bilboard displaying Raul´s nether regions, or Silvia's bare chest, then you will see that the setting, the north-east province of Aragon, is quite beautiful. I couldn´t help but look at this metaphorically - Bigas Luna is suggesting we try to look past stereotypes to see what is really there, in this case a beautiful country steeped in culture and history.
In spite of the language barrier, the film is funny - Brits especially will appreciate the black humour, the eccentricities used to portray the Spanish cultural stereotypes and the ability to take a step back and laugh at oneself. However, the climactic sequence left me unsure what to feel - what begins as a humourous "scrap" between two young men swinging pieces of meat at each other has an unexpectedly dark outcome, and Silvia´s last-minute dive into the arms of Manuel left me a little confused - but, being familiar with the director of the film, I had expected to be confused throughout.
Unless you have a thorough knowledge of psychology, surrealism or psychoanalysis, there are bound to be scenes that you won't understand. Not one to watch with your family, but otherwise thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining.