May 07, 1990 12:00 PM

Victoria Abril, Antonio Banderas

Directed by the Spaniard Pedro Almodóvar, whose 1988 film Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown was generously (sometimes too generously) praised, this movie is either a calculated provocation or a sad piece of sexist claptrap.

Whichever, it is a bore.

There has been a minor furor over the film’s X rating, which derives from a sex scene that is not all that different from standard cinematic degenitalized coupling. Banderas (Women on the Verge) plays a shiftless sort, just released from a mental institution, who is obsessed with Abril (Moon in the Gutter), playing a soft-porn actress making her first mainstream film. Banderas breaks into Abril’s apartment, punches her and holds her captive until she falls in love with him, which she seems to do mainly because he is such a sex machine.

If Almodóvar is saying women really want to be abused and subjugated, he deserves the worst that feminists can throw at him. If he is using Banderas’ and Abril’s behavior as a case study to be lampooned, he is doing a counterproductive job of it.

Moments in this film recall Godard’s Breathless or Truffaut’s meditations on man-woman relationships (though Truffaut, even at his most lecherous, seemed to hold women in the highest respect). Those moments flash by very fast, though, and everything else drones on awfully slowly. (In Spanish, with subtitles) (X)

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