Kika: Almodovar’s Tale of Father and Son, Enamored of Same Woman

kika_posterHaving done a serious-trashy woman’s melodrama, which was met with mixed critical response, Almodovar was ready to redress two of his most recurring themes, deviant sexuality and morbid death, in a colorful farce.

The result was “Kika,” centering, for a change, on the troubled relationship between a stepfather and his son.  Both men are enamored of Kika (Veronica Forque) a Madrid makeup artist–and one of the most optimistic and upbeat characters in Almodovar’s oeuvre.  Kika is good-natured to a fault, which doesn’t help when she becomes involved in two criminal schemes.  One scheme revolves around her lesbian maid, Juana (Rossy de Palma), and her mentally disabled brother, Pablo (Santiago Lajusticia). The other one deals with Ramon’s American novelist stepfather, Nicholas (played by the American actor Peter Coyote).

 

kika_4_almodovarThe plot begins with the arrival of the young and handsome photographer, Ramon (Alex Casanovas, in a role similar to those that Antonio Banderas had played) at the home of his mother (Charo Lopez) just in time to hear gunfire.  It seems that she has killed herself, after shooting and wounding her husband Nicholas. The beautician Kika relates how she had first met Nicholas, when she made him up for a TV interview.  Nicholas now asks Kika to apply make-up to Ramon, who had presumably died of heart attack.  Kika begins her work, endlessly rambling, but she feels that something is wrong–Ramon’s skin is too warm for a dead man.  When she alerts Nicholas, he dismisses it as nonsense. But the intuitive Kika is right when, suddenly, Ramon opens his eyes.

kika_3_almodovarAlmodovar cuts to Madrid, when Nicholas, having spent time abroad, is met at the train station by Ramon.  The color design chosen for both men is noticeable: The macho Nicholas is in a white and blue shirt, young and romantic Ramon in a white shirt with red stripes. The relations between stepfather and son are strained, to say the least. Ramon asks Kika to marry him, but she is doubtful, having already slept with Nicholas, and also concerned with Ramon’s penchant for voyeurism.

In a parallel subplot, Nicholas is approached by Ramon’s former lover, Andrea Scarface (Victoria Abril), who hosts a morbid TV reality show called “The Worst of the Day.”  One of the show’s episodes tells the story of a rapist and prison escapee, who turns out to be Pablo, the brother of Ramon’s maid, Juana.  Pablo rapes Kika, unaware that he is being filmed by the voyeuristic and spying Ramon.  Less traumatized by the rape than by its public transmission on Andrea’s TV show, Kika leaves Ramon.

kika_5_almodovarInspired by the movie “The Prowler” (directed by Joseph Losey), Almodovar emphasizes the subplot of Ramon’s suspicion that it is his stepfather who had murdered his mother.  Ramon decides to confront Nicholas, but has an attack, and Nicholas assumes he’s dead.  By that time, Andrea has figured out that Nicholas is the actual murderer, and when she challenges him, they end up killing each other.

Almodovar’s tenth feature benefited from the biggest budget he has worked with (it was the second co-production between of company El Deseo, S.A. (Desire L.T.D.) and the French entity Ciby 2000), which may account for the polished production values and lavish costume design.  Except for the maid, who’s clad in the same outfit throughout the story, the other characters, especially Ramon, change shirts in each and every scene.  Most of the gear is in red, or red and white, in various patterns.

kika_2_almodovarAs a follow up to “High Heels,” which was not as well received or as successful as “Women on the Verge of Nervous Breakdown,” Alomodovar must have felt the pressures to deliver a more commercial film, which results in a narrative in which the various strands do not converge smoothly, and whose tone is not farcical enough, as is required by this particular genre.  There are allusions to two seminal films of the 1960s, Hitchcock’s “Psycho” (1960) and Antonioni’s hip, first English speaking feature, “Blow-Up” (1966). But, ultimately, they don’t offer the poignant parallels or ironic commentaries that prevail in Almodovar’s other self-reflexive pictures.

The stylish credit sequence shows in black-and-white and then in color a spotlight, a keyhole, and a camera shutter, signaling that “Kika” would deal with voyeurism, both male and female, and shady family secrets, past and present.  Indeed, all the characters in “Kika” live a double life. While embodying individuals grounded in particular locales, they also fictionalize their own lives, or those of others.  Andrea, the film’s most mysterious and least engaging character, roams the streets of Madrid on her motorcycle, searching for (and surely finding) authentic crime scenes in all kinds of places, including the cemetery.  Looking ridiculous, like an alien in a sci-fi, Andrea sports a futuristic black uniform, equipped with  camera on her helmet, and flashing lights placed on her chest, which from afar look like exposed breasts.

kika_1_almodovarThe voyeuristic photographer Ramon may be seen as Almodovar’s version of David Hemmings in “Blow-Up.”  Ramon is obsessed with recording every “piece of reality,” from models (early on) to his own sex with Kika, a prolonged graphic scene in which he shoots Kika as she performs fellatio on him.  Ramon then asks Kika to film him as he penetrates her, and the poor girl obliges, though she never stops talking during sex.  Almodovar lifts a whole sequence out of “Blow-Up,” when he shows Ramon sitting on top of his model, arousing her and himself with his phallic camera, just as Hemmings did with the model Verushka in the 1966 picture.

Almodovar misfires in the central set-piece, in which Pablo, the criminal who escapes from prison, invades Kika’s house.  Before raping Kika, Pablo complains to his sister that he has grown tired of screwing gay men (“maricones”) in prison.  Using a peel of mandarin, Pablo begins caressing the crotch of the sleeping beauty before assaulting her sexually in a lengthy and excessive sequence.  Kika tries to protest and resist her rape, but to no avail, as Pablo pulls a knife and continues his assault.  Kika is more humiliated by the visual presentation of her rape on TV by Andrea than by Pablo’s abuse at a knife point.  Pablo’s sister, Juana, gagged and bound by him to a chair in the kitchen, moves herself to the room and sits by the bed, watching with horror Pablo’s hard work at reaching a climax.  Ironically, the rape is finally interrupted by an act of voyeurism from a neighbor who calls the police.  Andrea has manipulated a mysterious voyeur to hand her the video footage of the rape.

By now, Almodovar’s low opinion of cops (and authority figures) is well established.  In this film, there are two inept policemen (one tall, the other short) invade Kika’s apartment and untie the maid, but they seem unable to remove Pablo who’s still inside Kika. The sequence ends, with the couple being dragged together out of bed.  Rushing to the terrace, Pablo, still aroused, continues to masturbate and finally climaxes.  His cum lands on the cheek of Andrea, who simply removes it with a nonchalant gesture; nothing bothers or shocks her.  The scene is meant to be a comic, but instead it drags on and on. The director’s parody of sexually potent males, perpetually obsessed with vaginas and orgasms, becomes too blatant.

The cum shot in Almodovar’s 1993 picture may have inspired Todd Solondz’s black comedy “Happiness,” in which Philip Syemour Hoffman jerks off to completion, as well as the Farrelly brothers’ wonderful romantic comedy, “There’s Something About Mary,” in which Ben Stiller’s sperm lands on Cameron Diaz’s hair.  Both American movies were made in 1998, which prompted one of my students to write a paper titled “the year of the cum shot.”

Some of the more personal notes in “Kika” also miss their mark.  Like Scorsese, Almodovar has cast his mother in a number of films.  In “Kika,” the director’s octogenarian mother plays a TV presenter who interviews Nicholas about his latest novel and future plans. Significantly, the interview ends with her saying, “Nothing compares to Spain.” And, by extension, nothing compares to Almodovar.  Despite the horrors that Kika had witnessed, including the double murders of Nicholas and Andrea, she remains hopelessly and hopefully upbeat.  In the very last scene, Kika hits the road in her red sports car.  Shortly thereafter, she opens the door and her heart (with body to follow?) to a young hitchhiker in what seems to be the beginning of yet another amorous adventure.

Almodovar’s humorous treatment of rape in “Kika” was criticized by reviewers who could not understand his continuous obsession with sexual assault. “Kika“was the director’s third consecutive feature facing charges of misogyny and exploitation.  It’s hard to tell whether or not this line of criticism had any impact on Almodovar, as rape would feature prominently in several of his future pictures.  Nonetheless, his subsequent features became more dramatic than comedic or satirical, and less tinged with black humor.