Kika: Almodovar’s Melodrama Starring Veronica Forque

Having done a serious-trashy woman’s melodrama, which 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, who is 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—despite herself–in two criminal schemes. One concerns her lesbian maid Juana (Rossy de Palma) and the latter’s retarded brother Pablo (Santiago Lajusticia). The other deals with Ramon’s American novelist step-father, Nicholas (American actor Peter Coyote, dubbed).

Gay Directors, Gay Films? By Emanuel Levy (Columbia University Press, August 2015).

The byzantine plot begins when the young and handsome photographer Ramon (Alex Casanovas, in a role similar to those Antonio Banderas had played) arrives 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 make up Ramon, who had presumably died of heart attack. Kika begins the work, endlessly rambling to herself, but she feels that Ramon’s skin is too warm for a dead man. She alerts Nicholas who dismisses it as nonsense, but the intuitive Kika is right, when, suddenly Ramon opens his eyes.

Almodovar 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 significantly noticeable: 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. Later on, Ramon asks Kika to marry him, but she is doubtful, having slept with Nicholas, and seriously concerned with Ramon’s voyeurism. Meanwhile, Nicholas is approached by Ramon’s former analyst and lover, Andrea Scarface (Victoria Abril), who now 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, Pablo, who turns out to be the brother of Ramon’s maid, Juana. Pablo rapes Kika, unaware that he is being filmed by the voyeuristic Ramon, who spies on his girlfriend. Kika, less traumatized by the rape than by its public transmission on Andrea’s TV show, decides to leave Ramon.

Inspired by the movie “The Prowler” (directed by Joseph Losey), Almodovar changes gears and emphasizes the subplot of Ramon’s suspicion that it is his stepfather who had actually 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 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 lavish production values and costume design. Excepting the maid, who’s clad in the same outfit throughout, 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.

As a follow up to “High Heels,” which was not as well received or profitably successful as “Women on the Verge of Nervous Breakdown,” Almodovar must have felt the pressures to deliver a more commercial film, which results is a messy narrative in which the various strands do not converge smoothly and the tone is not farcical enough, as demanded 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 same poignant parallels or ironic commentaries that prevail in Almodovar’s other self-reflexive pictures.

Stylish and promising, the 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. All the characters in “Kika” live a double life: They embody realistic individuals grounded in particular locales, but they also fictionalize their own lives and/or those of others. Andrea, the film’s most mysterious character, is roaming the streets of Madrid on her motorcycle, searching for (and surely finding) authentic crime scenes in all kinds of places, including the cemetery. Andrea looks ridiculous, like an alien in a sci-fi, sporting a futuristic black uniform, equipped with camera placed on her helmet, and flashing lights placed where her breasts are, which from afar look like exposed breasts.

A voyeuristic photographer, Ramon is 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 stop talking during the encounter. Almodovar lifts a whole sequence out of “Blow-Up,” when he shows Ramon sitting on top of his model and excites her with his phallic camera, just as David Hemmings did with the model Verushka in the 1966 picture.

Almodovar misfires in the central set-piece, in which Pablo, the criminal who escaped from prison, invades Kika’s house, finding her asleep. With a peel of mandarin he begins caressing her crotch before assaulting her sexually in a sequence that seems to go forever. Pablo’s sister Juana, gagged and bound by Pablo to a chair in the kitchen, moves herself to the bedroom and sits by the bed in which Pablo works hard but is unable to reach a climax. Ironically, the rape is finally abrupted by an act of voyeurism from a neighbor who places a call to the police.

By now, Almodovar’s low opinion of cops (and authority figures) is well established. In this film, two inept policemen (one tall, one 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 masterbute and finally climaxes. His sperm falls from the top floor, landing on the cheek of Andrea who simply removes it with nonchalant gesture

First asleep while being penetrated, then waking up, Kika tries to protest and resist her rape, but to no avail. Threatened, 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 penetration at a knife point. Andrea, the reporter-dominatrix, has manipulated a mysterious voyeur to hand her the video footage of the rape. The above scene is meant to be a comic tour-de-force, but instead it drags on. The director’s parody of sexually potent males, perpetually obsessed with vaginas and orgasms, becomes too blatant. Before raping Kika, Pablo complains to his sister that he has grown tired of screwing gay men (“maricones”) in prison.

The cum shot in Almodovar’s 1993 picture may have inspired Todd Solondz’s black comedy “Happiness,” in which Philip Seymour Hoffman jerks off to completion, as well as the Farrelly brothers’ wonderful romantic comedy, “There’s Something About Mary.” Both American movies were made in 1998, which prompted one of my students to define that year as “the year of the sperm shot.

Some of the more personal notes in “Kika” 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 expatriate American 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 (and body?) to a young hitchhiker in what likely is the beginning of a new amorous adventure.

With “Kika,” Almodovar’s humorous treatment of rape was criticized by reviewers who could not understand his continuous obsession with rape. “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 an impact on Almodovar. Nonetheless, his subsequent features became more dramatic than comedic or satirical, and less tinged with black or outrageous humor.