(19/07/07)

Labyrinth of Passion | Dir: Pedro Almodovar (1982) | With Cecilia Roth, Antonio Banderas. Released by Tartan Video.

It is sometimes a pity that film directors have to grow up, especially when the director in question is Pedro Almodóvar. Labyrinth of Passion, Almodóvar’s most pop film, epitomises the early career of the Spanish director during his service as one of the leading lights of the post-Franco ‘Movida Madrileña’, the cultural movement that took place in Madrid during the first ten years after the death of Francisco Franco in 1975, which represented the economic rise of Spain and the new emerging Spanish cultural identity.

The early camp-punk-new wave sensitivity abounds in Labyrinth of Passion, The sheer energy of those early, energetic days constrasts sharply with the later, glossier films – surely, the Spanish director’s more recent output is still brilliant at points. However, the aesthetic gentrification his films have undergone did gloss out the rough-and-ready charm of that long-gone period.

The film is in fact a narrative labyrinth, a cartoonesque take on sexual perversion, drugs, the media, pop psychology and the gay scene. It revolves around Sexilia (Cecilia Roth), a nymphomanic rockstar and daughter of a gynaecologist who’s treating the wife of an Arab ruler. The latter’s bisexual son Riza (Imanol Arias) in on the run in Madrid and disguises himself as a pop star to evade the terrorists who are after him (including a baby-faced Pedro Bandeiras in his debut role with Almodóvar). Added to this bizarre carousel is Queti (Marta Fernández Muro), a laundry worker who is obsessed with Sexilia.

Labyrinth of Passion, a title that sounds like the name of a cheap perfume, is pure high-jinx and absurdity, one of Almodóvar’s most delirious and colourful films. It sits well alongside early John Waters’s fare and, in the face of the current revival of early 1980s electropop, which is the music genre played by the pop stars in the films, it also scores some revivalist points. Impossible not to love.

Bamako | Dir: Abderrahmane Sissako (2006) | With Aïssa Maïga, Tiécoura Traoré, William Bourdon, Gabriel Magma Konate. Released by Artificial Eye DVD.

Abderrahmane Sissako’s follow-up to his contemplative Waiting for Happiness (2002), Bamako is a sui-generis piece of work. Set in the courtyard of a house in Bamako, the capital of Mali and Sissako ‘s home country, it weaves together the story of an African couple on the verge of breaking up and a public political trial involving African civil society against the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and their disastrous policies for Africa.

At points the film resembles the re-enactment of a discussion, although subtle shifts in camera work at the end signal the director’s subtle use of filmic metalanguage. Sissako, who studied film in Moscow, uses his political consciousness on his sleeve and the film is his platform to broadcast some irrefutable truths about the relationship between the West and Africa. Despite the potential seriousness of the topic, Bamako retains a lightness of touch and satirical humour that takes the film forward with an appealing rhythm. Original and truthful. The DVD includes an in-depth interview with Sissako about the film and his career.

Je T’Aime Moi Non Plus | Dir: Serge Gainsbourg (1976) | With Jane Birkin, Joe Dalessandro and Hugues Quester. Released by Optimum Home Entertainment.

Serge Gainsbourg’s legacy as a musician has never been bigger, with credible contemporary musicians lining up to record covers of Gainsbourg’s iconic back catalogue. But his filmmaking legacy is another story entirely. Je T’Aime Moi Non Plus (known in the UK as I Love You, I Don’t) is an 84-minute romp through an Americanised French landspace showing Dalessandro sodomising an androgynously gorgeous Jane Birkin, who also gets slapped on the face by Dalessandro’s boyfriend, the amusingly named Padovan (Quester). Birkin, who along the years has perfected a sexy-clumsy persona, saves her skin with her self-deprecating sense of humour. Surprisingly, amid all the hip trashiness, there are some beautiful shots and the soundtrack, of course, is really good. Je T’Aime Moi Non Plus is a piece out of a dusty 1970s cabinet of curiosity, a playground devised by Gainsbourg for him to play with homosexuality, androgyny, anal sex, nudity, in short, an illustration of the erotic universe alluded to in his songs.

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