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High Heels (German Release)
After fifteen years of mutual frustration Becky del Paramo (Marisa Peredes) and her daughter Rebeca (Victoria Abril) have decided to reunite. Rebeca's husband, a man with a tremendous amount of influence and an owner of a large TV station, is an old flame of Becky's and also happens to have an affair with one of his TV assistants working with Rebeca. Not complicated enough for you? Here's a bit more…While visiting an extravagant bar with a luscious gay-singer Rebeca quickly succumbs to his advances and cheats on her husband. Shortly after Rebeca's husband is found dead.
Weird sex, strange characters, a complicated affair, plenty of great music…it has to be Almodvar. And it sure is! In his still unavailable in North America Tacones Lejanos a.k.a High Heels (1991) Spain's most celebrated director once again turns his camera to the world of complicated human relationships. In it a mother and a daughter will have to come to terms with their past and uncover the person responsible for the death of the man they both had an affair with.
Unlike some of his other films, however, Almodovar's High Heels does not quite reveal the spicy side of the Maestro's talent as we have come to expect after seeing his Tie Me Up Tie Me Down (1990) and All About My Mother (1999). Instead the Spanish director has opted for a more self-contained story where the murder mystery is indeed an integral part of the plot. In addition, it seems like even the marquee comedy-element which is always present in Almodovar's works is somewhat less edgy. Thus, the bigger part of High Heels is better describable as being a melodrama than a murder-mystery with plenty of wicked laughs.
High Heels is without a doubt a flawed film. While the characters are rich and generally impressive with their oddities they are substantially less convincing than most of what we have seen from Almodovar. Victoria Abril, Almodovar's darling, is excellent but not as wild as I expected her to be. Part of the reason for her less contagious performance I assume has to do with the fact that there isn't really a character in High Heels that can challenge her to the extent Antonio Banderas did in Tie Me Up Tie Me Down. As a result Abril has only a few scenes (most notably her sex act with the gay-singer) that are genuinely hilarious.
As it always is the case with Almodovar's films the great performances are complimented by an impressive soundtrack. High Heels is not an exception and there is plenty in it that will satisfy those looking for the unique Spanish flavor that makes an Almodovar film a high-quality cinematic experience. In High Heels there is a strikingly colorful group performance (the famous street scene) which one is more likely to encounter in a classic Hollywood musical than in your typical Spanish thriller with a twist. This is indeed a scene that is full of passion, great music, and beautiful camera work elevating High Heels amongst Almodovar's better films.
There are two key aspects that transform Almodovar into the greatest contemporary Spanish director: style and originality. While the latter is not as strongly represented in High Heels the first is most certainly easy to acknowledge. There is something unique in the manner in which Almodovar manages to extract unusual stories from what you and I are likely to consider "typical". His uncanny talent of juxtaposing the quirky with the serious always creates a mix that modifies his films into an outrageous experience only few contemporary directors can match.
In 1993 Tacones Lejanos won the Best Foreign Film Award at the Cesar Awards, France; it was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Golden Globes Awards (1992); it won the Best Lead Performance (Marisa Parades) Award granted by the Spanish Actors Union (1992); and won the Golden Kikito Awards for Best Actress, Best Director, Best Score (Ryuichi Sakamoto) at the Gramado Film Festival, Brazil (1992).
How Does the Film Look?
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and enhanced for widescreen TV's this recently released German edition of Almodovar's High Heels (released by Universal-Germany) makes me quite suspicious that the German distributors might have opted for the same film source as the French TF1 distribs used for their release. Which is indeed a good thing as colors are bright and convincing, contrast is at a satisfactory level, and the film print appears to be in great condition! The only difference I could spot between the TF1 disc and this Universal DVD is the contrast level which I find marginally better on the TF1 presentation. Regardless, everything else appears to be of exceptionally high quality (at least as far as the age of the film is concerned) and I would not hesitate to recommend it highly to those disappointed with the lack of a R1 release. Last but not least the print is virtually free of any heavy digital manipulation sans a tad of mosquito-noise which I noticed in the opening scenes (I counted two or three dust dots but really that is all that I have to complain about). All in all, a great and well-deserving presentation of a good, hard to track, Almodovar film. Encoded R2-PAL.
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with its original Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 language track and a funny German Dolby Digital 2.0 dub High Hells sounds great! The audio is crisp and clear and serves well the exotic music score by Ryuichi Sakamoto. The TF1 SE does offer a more elaborate 5.1 Spanish track (and a moot DTS French track) but I believe this to be a sub-product of the old 2.0 Spanish mix. With other words you should be perfectly satisfied with what has been provided on this German disc. With optional white German, (German HOH), and English subtitles.
Unfortunately all that you would get from this German disc is a TV spot with optional English subtitles (plus a few other trailers for other Universal-Germany releases dubbed in German).
2006 is the year of Almodovar!! While SONY are still trying to figure out how to (mis)represent the Spanish director by insulting his fans with unneeded re-releases of already available films the rest of the world is putting up some very well-done SE of his early films (the TF1 SE has some nice extras). What is more disturbing however is that some of Almodovar's greatest films (Kika; Women on the verge of nervous breakdown; Matador; Tie Me Up Tie Me Down, etc) are nowhere to be found!! WHY?? Furthermore there are no plans for a High Heels R1 release. Surely such unceremonious ignorance is criminal!!
This review was made possible with the kind assistance of Xploited Cinema