One of my colleagues here at New Times who lived in Spain has asked me not to compare Bigas Luna, director of the anarchic sexual farce Jam centsn Jam centsn (one of the well-received offerings at this year's Miami Film Festival), with Pedro Almod centsvar, Luna's better-known contemporary. I feel it's important to keep my word, so let's just say that Jam centsn Jam centsn is one of the darkest and wickedest Spanish comedies to arrive on these shores since Antonio Banderas trussed up Victoria Abril in Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!
Luna is no stranger to tales of sexual obsession, beginning with 1978's creepy Bilbao, the story of a sheltered young man with a jones for a voluptuous prostitute. Jam centsn could be viewed as Luna's devious response to the "Where's the beef?" query some critics have raised about his films. His fractured fable centers on Conchita, a wealthy underwear manufacturer's wife troubled by her whimpering son Jose Luis's dalliance with Silvia, one of her lowly employees. Conchita bribes a young blue-collar hunk, Raul -- Javier Bardem brings a beefcake sensuality to the role that plays like a cross between the young Brando and Eric Roberts -- to seduce Silvia, who, unbeknownst to Conchita, has been knocked up by Jose Luis.
Needless to say, things don't go according to Conchita's plan. For starters, she finds herself succumbing to Raul's charms, not the least of which is a certain physical endowment that catches her eye when Raul applies for a job modeling men's briefs at her husband's factory. Unlike the strapping plebeian stud, Conchita's boy Jose Luis is a spineless whiner. He's also a regular patron of the local bordello, run by Silvia's mother, Carmen, who once had an affair with Conchita's husband. Like father like son: even though he's about to marry the madam's daughter (or so he says), Jose Luis can't stop squeezing the Carmen. Silvia's mother doesn't put up much of a fight. And Silvia is not exactly the picture of constancy herself; her romantic loyalties are easily swayed. Luna sprinkles nude bullfighting, lectures on the aphrodisiacal properties of garlic, and doggie underpants into the combustible mix, and before they know what's hit them his characters are in turmoil.
In Luna's world, passion has a mind of its own and plays havoc with the artificial constructs of class and civility. Raul, theoretically the dumbest of the lot, understands that implicitly. There's a fatal inevitability to the way Luna's people go about mucking up their lives. You know from the outset that none of them will avoid entanglement in the web of carnal shenanigans. Getting there is all the fun.
Stefania Sandrelli as Conchita, Anna Galiena as Carmen, and Penelope Cruz as Silvia display the acting equivalent of perfect pitch. Sandrelli, in particular, makes a mockery of the not-so-discreet charm of the bourgeoisie. And Bardem's turn as Raul the horny ham-delivery man (no subtle symbolism there) could be a career-maker.
But Jam centsn's big winner is director Luna. It proves there is more than one Spanish filmmaker with a twisted sense of humor, a finger on the pulse of modern Spanish society, and a willingness to take on the sexual foibles of the ruling class. Jam centsn Jam centsn marks Luna as an artist on the verge of a nervous breakthrough.
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