High Heels

High Heels

****1/2

Reviewed by: Val Kermode

Rebeca (Victoria Abril from Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!) is a woman abandoned as a child by the mother she adored, always striving to equal her success, even marrying the man her mother was once involved with, to prove she could have something her mother couldn’t have. But when her beloved mother comes back into her life and steals her husband’s attention it’s more than she can bear. Shots are fired. The husband is found dead. Both women are suspects.

As ever with Almodóvar, there is a complex plot involving layers of implausible coincidence. Rebeca’s friend Letal (Miguel Bossé) is a drag artist whose act is an impersonation of her mother, but turns out to be more of an impersonator than he seems. There is a mix up with some photographs which contain vital clues as to what is really going on. The examining magistrate, Dominguez, has a hypochondriac mother whose eclectic scrapbooks (Mother Teresa, Brigitte Bardot and Becky del Páramo) hold another important piece of information. But the more complicated the story becomes, the more we are drawn in. Almodóvar is so confident that he can afford a little self-mocking. When Rebeca comments on the strangeness of so many coincidences, Dominguez replies “Sometimes things happen like this, all at once.”

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The story of the mother/daughter relationship acknowledges its debt to Bergman’s Autumn Sonata. Here the mother, Becky del Páramo (Marisa Paredes) is a singer, and Almodóvar typically includes a significant song which haunts the daughter throughout the film.

High heels first appear in an early shot as both women stand outside Becky’s basement flat, the mother’s significantly higher than the daughter’s. This is echoed at the end of the film when a shadow of passing heels falls across the mother and Rebeca tells her how as a child she listened for the sound of her high heels returning. This use of shadow is itself a homage to Bergman. Almodóvar has rewritten an emotional story and filmed it in his own inimically stylish fashion. He presents us with a murder mystery which is also a personal tragedy, yet he always has one eye on the comedy of the situation.

There is a delicious scene where the two women, plus another, are questioned about the night of the murder. The third woman (Cristina Marcos) is the signer for the deaf who appears with Rebeca in her role as TV news broadcaster. Of course, she can’t be a serious suspect because she’s wearing green….

Those who follow this director’s red motif through all his films will know that he usually dresses his strong female characters in red. Here the colour is used in a very sensual way - shoes, long gloves, the print left by Becky’s lips as she kisses the stage and, most memorably, the red star-shaped plate which falls and breaks in a moment of sexual abandon. Almodóvar even makes his characters precise about the shade of red. When a detective describes the dead husband’s dressing gown as red, he is made to repeat twice that it is in fact “cherry coloured silk”.

It could be argued that the film loses some of its momentum as the murder mystery begins to unravel, and overall this is perhaps not quite as satisfying as some of his later films. But, as always, Almodóvar conveys a joy of filmmaking which few directors can match.

Reviewed on: 17 Oct 2009
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A woman who lives in the shadow of her mother finds herself locking horns with her after her husband is killed.
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