The "prolonged orgasm" is Pedro Almodóvar’s format and tenor, the torero’s onanistic frenzy at the outset is a scabrous climax that concludes only with the end credits. The great bullfighter (Nacho Martínez) has been forced into retirement after getting gored in the arena, he jerks off to misogynistic thrillers (gory reds fill the screen, courtesy of Mario Bava) and teaches "the art of killing, the art of dying" to young pupils. His most eager student (Antonio Banderas) is a virginal clairvoyant whose mother (Julieta Serrano) wears Opus Dei garter belts and evokes the Lord’s blessing for the dinner flan. Determined to confirm his machismo, Banderas tries to rape his top-model neighbor (Eva Cobo) but faints at the sight of her bruise; his confession at the police station doesn’t stick, so he instead takes credit for the murders whose vibrations he's been picking up. A way to please teacher, yet Martínez is more interested in Assumpta Serna, the provocative lawyer whose praying-mantis boudoir manners (a hairpin-dagger materializes mid-coitus) make her his ideal Liebestod mate. Oshima’s original title for In the Realm of the Senses translates as "Corrida of Love," Almodóvar claims it for his own vision of unchained desire. Modern Madrid is a garden full of roses and poisoned mushrooms and buried corpses, the past is not Franco’s oppression but magnified celluloid images of Gregory Peck and Jennifer Jones in bloodied embrace. The auteur himself plays a couture designer with a fashion show titled "Spain Divided" ("between the envious and the intolerant"), though the entire nation seems like a catwalk for swooning underground passions. If a girl goes to declare her love, it’s in scarlet, shoulderless cover-girl gowns and tear-stained makeup; shot from above, the matador’s spread cape becomes the swathes of pink and gold on which the lovers consume their rites. Nabokov’s "poetry of the irrational" is Almodóvar’s, too -- surrounded by the delirium of lurid romance, characters push "beyond reason" and are punished with... happiness. With Eusebio Poncela, Carmen Maura, Chus Lampreave, and Bibi Andersen.
--- Fernando F. Croce