Kika  
Spanish black comedy written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar. The film follows young make-up artist Kika (Veronica Forque) as she starts a relationship with the stepson of a philandering American writer living in Madrid. After being called to the mansion of Nicholas Pierce (Peter Coyote) to make-up the corpse of his stepson Ramón (Alex Casanovas), Kika is shocked when Ramón turns out not to be dead and is revived by her attentions. Later, the pair start dating and decide to move in together, but their future is then put in jeopardy when Kika begins an affair with Nicholas and Ramón's ex-psychologist and lover decides she wants him back.
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It would be both tedious and pointless to attempt a complete synopsis of this film, convoluted and ridiculous as it is, but spoilers are alas inevitable in what follows...
The film centers around a bubbly warm-spirited 40 something single make-up artist named Kika (an amazing performance from Verónica Forqué) and her love life. Starting and finishing on images of a road (the road of life), the film spot-checks her involvement with three men – American murder-suspense novelist Nicholas Pierce (Peter Coyote), his stepson fashion photographer Ramón (Àlex Casanovas) and her maid’s retarded escaped convict/ex-porno actor brother Paul (Santiago Lajusticia). All three use and abuse her in various ways. Throw in a couple of useless chauvinist cops and masculine reality TV show presenter Andrea ‘Scarface’ (Victoria Abril) and the film is that quintessential Almodóvar essay on a woman surviving the tyranny of men. The film is structured in two halves either side of the infamous rape. The first half is mostly played for laughs as we see Kika at the center of Nicholas and Ramón’s attention. The latter even proposes to her and (he being rich) she is on the verge of domestic security. A visit from Paul Bazzo (the name is a pun on the Spanish word “polvazo” meaning “big ejaculation”) changes all this. Not only does he rape her three times, but she later discovers Ramón caught it on camera and also that another voyeur caught not only the rape but also Nicholas killing a woman named Susana (Bibí Andersen) in the apartment above. When she sees this second film on TV having been sold to Andrea’s reality show entitled “Today’s Worst”, she realizes nobody gives a damn about her and leaves. Even her maid Juana (Rossy de Palma) has lied to her about her brother and she is left alone, completely without the usual female solidarity that is present in other Almodóvar films. If the first half of the film is (from Kika’s point of view) played as a screwball sex comedy, the second half is played as melodrama which descends into psycho horror when she visits Nicholas and Ramón’s family villa and finds out the first is a serial killer while the second is a seriously disturbed voyeur. She eventually decides to throw away Ramón’s engagement ring and walk away, the film finishing on her hitching up with a young man stranded on the side of a road. She drives off to probably another sexual adventure, her spirit and great strength of character celebrated to the very last. Forqué’s performance suffering at the hands of men throughout the film is a hilarious triumph as she spectacularly essays her character’s transition from happy go lucky screwball blond to melodramatic victim in this film’s crazy narrative arc. The central rape scene in particular comes across less as a gratification of male desire than a tribute to the strengths of womankind. Appearing only twice for Almodóvar (in What Have I Done to Deserve This?  and here) and pursuing a career on Spanish TV, one regrets not seeing more of her on British screens.
As can be gleaned above, this film is in one sense simple – a film of two halves separated by a scene of transgression. Furthermore we note the film begins and ends in bloodbaths shown in long scenes at the villa belonging to Nicholas and Ramón so establishing an organized balance to the film’s over-riding narrative structure. The disorientating complexity lies in the postmodern way Almodóvar chooses to tell his story. Contrary to modernism, postmodernism accepts the world cannot be explained by one all-embracing theory. It is too complicated to be reduced down into one system or ‘genre’. Any attempt at explaining is not only pointless, but threatening as well. Therefore, a postmodern film will turn in on itself, examine itself and forefront the mechanics of the filmmaking process in a way that approaches the very confusion that the world around us really consists of. Postmodern film consists of five main interlocking themes which come out of this self-reflexive acceptance of chaos being the one uniting definition of the reality that surrounds us – inter-textual pastiche (genre manipulation), meta-fiction (the foregrounding of the creative process and the acceptance of more than one voice controlling the narrative), faction (the adoption of real life events or people), paranoia (all characters are crushed by the sense of lives spiraling out of control), and constant referencing to other art either existing or invented (a blurring of both high and low culture). Kika exemplifies all of these features, advancing what Almodóvar began in The Law of Desire (1987) and will develop through The Flower of My Secret, All About My Mother (1999) and Bad Education (2004) to Broken Embraces (2009). Only in Kika though is the inter-textual pastiche so manic, the meta-fiction so multi-voiced and the constant referencing to other films so pronounced.
In the film Almodóvar allots a different film genre to each of the four main characters. Consequently we get four different doppelgänger/alter-egos for the director who each insist the film be shot in their own distinctive way. It is noticeable that each character is an artistic creator of a kind. Kika is a make-up artist which cues up the film’s fashion parade of perfectly coiffured and made-up actors parading costumes designed by José Maria de Cossio, Gianni Versace and Jean-Paul Gaultier. Every scene sees all the actors change their clothes making for a virtual catwalk of a film in which all things visual replace the importance of all things intellectual. Kika is the one character who undergoes a change and correspondingly Almodóvar allots her two genres – screwball sex comedy for the first half (evidenced by her hilarious non-stop verbal diarrhea bringing to mind Katherine Hepburn or Rosalind Russell coupled with bizarrely comic situations – arriving for sex but ending up making up a corpse, reacting to Ramón taking photos while they make love, screaming at her rapist to stop drooling and come quickly so that he will get off her) and melodrama for the second (we sympathize with her plight at nobody showing her sympathy for having been raped and are given two stereotypical melodramatic scenes – a farewell to her maid Juana and a letter reading scene which compels her to see Ramón again). Of course the genres flying in from the other characters mix oddly with these two, but that is part of the unique postmodern flavor of Almodóvar’s concoction.
Ramón is a fashion photographer which provides the cue for the voyeuristic way much of the film is shot. Almodóvar is calling the shots, but the numerous compositions framed through windows and doors coupled with the continual quotation of films inspired by voyeurism dominate throughout. These closely align the director’s point of view with Ramón’s and through Ramón with ours as well. The opening credits shows a woman stripping through a keyhole shape which turns out to be Ramón’s as well as Almodóvar’s and slips straight into an obvious quote of David Hemmings raping Verushka with his camera in Blow Up (1966, Michelangelo Antonioni). On his studio wall is a poster for Peeping Tom (1960, Michael Powell) and then later it emerges he has rented an apartment across the way from where he lives with Kika and enjoys peeping at her from a distance à la Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window (1954, Alfred Hitchcock). Indeed, it turns out Ramón has psychological problems which the casting of the X-ray eyed Alex Casanovas perfectly conveys. This consists of an out of control Oedipus complex, a love for his mother and a desire to kill his father. The film opens on him finding his mother’s corpse, she having been shot in the chest and finishes on him finding Kika with blood on her chest (from another corpse) in the same place. The fact that Kika is a mother figure much older than him who he wants to marry while also wanting to be rid of his step father Nicholas, suggests the film is in effect an exorcism of his trauma wherein his childhood memories (growing up behind the bedroom door listening to/watching his mum and stepdad making love) are confronted. This is obviously Psycho (1960, Hitchcock) territory and that film informs Almodóvar’s treatment of Ramón (the genre of psycho-suspense) along with a sophisticated riff on numerous other Hitchcock thrillers from Rope (a corpse in a box) to The Trouble with Harry. The theme of dubious policemen (Hitch hated the police) is made obvious while the women murder victims are of course Grace Kelly-blonds. Like The Jimmy Stewart character in Rear Window (another photographer of course) Ramón isn’t a bad man exactly, but he is a voyeur and just as Hitchcock poses the very act of sitting in the dark and watching a movie as a voyeuristic act in itself, so Almodóvar does the same thing. This is especially noticeable in the way the rape is shot through the window, Ramón’s point of view merging exactly with ours. As with the Stewart character (who breaks his other leg) Ramón is punished but will get to live another day just as we in the audience also will.
Nicholas is another very Hitchcockian character (Peter Coyote again perfectly cast), but rather than the psycho-suspense/voyeur genre, he is depicted by Almodóvar as a straightforward serial killer which evokes films like Suspicion (1941), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Rope (1948), Frenzy (1972) as well as Psycho. Nicholas is a writer and of course is the most obvious doppelgänger of the four for Almodóvar. He writes novels based on his own real life crimes as well as (it turns out) writing the scripts for Andrea Scarface’s “Today’s Worst”. The murder the second peeper (possibly Andrea) accidentally catches him committing while shooting Kika making love to Ramón earlier is the film’s most obvious quote to Rear Window (the story of another murder being accidentally captured). Perhaps significant is the way Almodóvar merges his references. The film opens on 2 gun shots and Ramón finding Nicholas having seemingly been shot in the arm by his wife (Ramón’s mother) who in turn shot herself dead. Later Ramón realizes Nicholas has faked the scene. In a direct quote from The Prowler (1950, Joseph Losey) which we actually see on TV, Van Heflin shoots his victim dead point blank before shooting himself in the arm. While the penny drops for both us and Ramón that Nicholas has killed his wife we notice the music on the soundtrack does not belong to The Prowler. It belongs to Psycho. Almodóvar extends the use of the music over into the next scene and prepares us for the grand guignol serial killer thriller climax in the old house. It was not lost on Almodóvar at the time that serial killer thrillers were in vogue in the early 90s. The Silence of the Lambs (1991, Jonathan Demme) had won the Academy Award and a whole raft of serial killer flicks were in theaters at the time, most infamously of all of course Natural Born Killers (1994, Oliver Stone) which came out the same year as Kika.
An important character in Natural Born Killers was a reality TV show host played by Robert Downey Jr. Here we have Andrea Scarface superbly played by Victoria Abril who on one level articulates the film’s postmodern faction. Two scenes are directly inspired by real events. A man gunning down his wife in a cemetery is verbatim what happened in 1993 in Fort Lauderdale Florida, while the footage of a religious procession where Paul Bazzo escapes is taken from the annual Good Friday procession of self-flagellants in San Vicente da la Sonsierra (notice Almodovar putting in a Hitchcock-style cameo here!). On a deeper level the character of Andrea is the key to understanding all the other characters and the reality she presents on her TV show equates precisely with the very ‘reality’ (our reality) Almodóvar is depicting in his film. I talked earlier about Kika introducing the film’s fashion parade, but it is Andrea who sports the most outlandish Jean Paul Gaultier costumes on the stage of her TV studio. One startling number features exploding breasts while another exposes a fake artificial leg with more than a hint of sado-masochism. Off stage she also wears a bizarre leather Gaultier outfit making her look like a cross between a human surveillance mechanism and a bug – more S&M bondage gear with lights for breasts and a camera on her head forever recording her (re the film’s/our) reality. Andrea has a big hand in forming the characters of the two male protagonists. She has slept with both Nicholas and Ramón and was even the latter’s psychologist before she turned reality TV presenter. If both men are fundamentally disturbed it is in no small part down to her, something which of course makes her an obvious Almodóvar doppelgänger. Indeed, she may even be the main over-riding auteur figure. If one character can be said to be in control it is Andrea. Tellingly, she is controversially shown as being the film’s most evil character, even more so than the rapist Paul Bazzo and gets suitably punished for her transgressions by a spot of the latter's semen falling onto her head ironically annointing her ('blessing' her) from up above. Note Kika isn’t disturbed by her rape until she sees it on TV and is shamed. The crime isn’t a crime until it is captured by a camera and is shared. In addition it is obvious that Andrea’s show is heavily scripted (more faction) by Nicholas no less and in addition to epitomizing evil, is most responsible for the representation of ‘reality’ that we see in the film. The fact that she shows a world devoid of privacy and full of voyeurs, serial killers, rapists, dubious policemen, masochistic maids, etc (all of whom she manipulates) may seem perverse and constitutes perhaps a shock too far for Almodóvar, but through the paranoid lens of a postmodern worldview, it more than succeeds in accomplishing the director’s goal of refracting his own personal themes through extending genre experimentation to its very furthest limits. As such, the film represents some kind of masterpiece and the last word on this kind of filmmaking before Almodovar moved on to a different style in The Flower of My Secret.
This Optimum DVD (aspect ratio 16:9) looks and sounds great and comes with some very interesting extras – an introduction to the film by José Arroyo and interviews with the cast and Almodóvar himself. Most interesting of all, we get to see the director in action and how he acts all the roles for his cast who are forced into following his lead. One thing puzzles me. Arroyo alludes to a prison musical number (presumably featuring Juana the lesbian maid who fantasizes being a prison warder surrounded by women prisoners) which he says is a highlight. There is no such scene in this print. Does this mean this print has been cut, or is Arroyo simply mixing it up with High Heels (1991) which I know definitely DOES have a women’s prison number? Perhaps someone can clear this up. Anyway, Kika is an excellent film. Much better than everyone seems to think, appreciate it as a postmodern text along the lines say of Blue Velvet (1984, David Lynch) or Barton Fink (1991, Coen brothers) and you should have a ball. It is possibly Almodóvar’s wackiest, funniest feature to date – a delight from the keyhole opening through to the Some Like It Hot (1959, Billy Wilder) “Nobody’s Perfect” ending replete with a rendition of that film’s famous rumba. Sheer joy.