'Jamon, Jamon' is virtually a catalog of sexual activity

June 17, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

A movie first: ham-to-ham combat.

That's the lurid climax of "Jamon, Jamon" ("Ham, Ham"), opening today at the Charles, where two young men fight to the death with haunches of salted pork. Crunch, thud, oof and pow: it's both a celebration of and mourning wail against the macho persuasion.

In fact, meat is the subtext of the movie, its metaphorical underpinning, in the crudest and most boisterous of senses. It's exactly the kind of movie that Pedro Almodovar should be making. Alas, the director is Bigas Luna; Almodovar made the much less interesting "Kika" instead.

In form, "Jamon, Jamon" is a familiar trope from lurid American Fifties pop culture: a super-heated, small-town job, a little like "Peyton Place," in which the question is not who is sleeping with whom, but who isn't. And the answer is: nobody isn't. You need a score card to tell the players.

You also need a score card to keep track of the variety of sexual activity, strictly from a perversion perspective. Luna is nothing if not ecumenical: No form of fitting two bodies together passes his interest. He's an equal opportunity blasphemer. From memory, I recall father-daughter incest, implied mother-son incest, routine adultery, spectacular infidelity (boy fiance with girl fiancee's mother!), routine gigolo and prostitute sex, and indecent exposure in the presence of a bull, to say nothing of murder and speeding.

The plot is so dense no summary could do it justice. Here's but a hint of the complexity: The son of the rich factory owner is in love with and wants to marry the daughter of the town prostitute. Not a happy situation for the boy's mother, particularly as she knows her husband has and will again consort with the prostitute and she hates the idea of her dearly beloved son marrying someone so below him. What she doesn't know is that the son has also been with the prostitute. She hires a stud to seduce the daughter but the stud falls in love with the daughter and the daughter falls in love with the stud. Alas, by this time, the mother has fallen in love with the stud, and now the son is in such pain from losing the daughter that he seems both violent and suicidal so he attacks the stud. Meanwhile, the father begins to move in on the daughter.

And I should mention: The factory manufactures . . . underpants.

It's that kind of movie.

Played out in America, the setting would certainly be a New England mill town or a lush Southern plantation state. Luna, for some reason, sites his action in a desert near a highway down which roll an endless parade of trucks, which come to seem like huge engines of lust blasting through the night. That's only one such symbol of the male organ. Luna fills "Jamon, Jamon" with phallic symbolism to such an extent that if begins to feel like a Ph.D. thesis on the matter: the pork haunches, the pockets of underpants, the motorcycle, and on and on.

In fact, he throws everything in, except for Dr. Suess's "Green Eggs and Ham." If he'd had another few minutes, he'd have gotten them in, too!

"Jamon, Jamon"

Starring Penelope Cruz and Sandria Sandrelli

Directed by Bigas Luna

Released by Academy Entertainment

Unrated

***

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