Live Flesh (Carne Trémula) (1997)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 17-Jun-2003

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by
BUY IT

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Theatrical Trailer-1.85:1, not 16x9 enhanced, Dolby Digital 2.0 (1:33)
Trailer-Talk To Her, All About My Mother
Biographies-Crew-Pedro Almodovar
Trailer-Amores Perros, Samsara, Nine Queens, Rain, Dinner Rush
DVD Credits
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 1997
Running Time 96:36
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (64:02) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Pedro Almodóvar
Studio
Distributor

Madman Entertainment
Starring Javier Bardem
Francesca Neri
Liberto Rabal
Ángela Molina
José Sancho
Penélope Cruz
Pilar Bardem
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $29.95 Music Alberto Iglesias


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Regular readers of this site will no doubt be aware that I was quite impressed by Hable con Ella from acclaimed Spanish director Pedro Aldomovar. Having never seen any of his work before, I did question some of the purpose of the film but readily endorsed the journey that he was taking us on. Anyway, the upshot of that release was that I was determined to investigate his output further, so when his earlier Live Flesh became available for review, I certainly grabbed the DVD without much thought.

    The fact that this is an earlier work is readily apparent from the fact that his film vision is not as well developed here as it is in Hable con Ella, and in some ways it presents an even more problematic viewing experience straight out. Whilst there is certainly plenty to enjoy here, it has to be said that there are parts that simply don't work at all well and drag the film down somewhat. Still, Pedro Almodovar's mediocre bits are still way better than anything that the ilk of Michael Bay and Jan de Bont could come up with.

    This starts somewhat languidly with a flashback to the birth of Victor Plaza (Liberto Rabal) on a bus during the dark years of Spanish life when many of the liberties of the Spanish people had been suspended by the Franco regime. His birth was a bit of a notorious effort that saw, amongst other things, his mother and he receiving lifetime transit passes, a big deal over which was made by the media. We then jump twenty years forward and Victor is now a pizza delivery boy who is hoping to hook up again with Elena Benedetti (Francesca Neri) with whom he had an encounter in a toilet the previous week. We also meet Sancho (José Sancho), a alcohol imbibing police officer who is being driven somewhat mad by the fact that he believes his wife Clara (Ángela Molina) is having an affair. He tells his partner David de Paz (Javier Bardem) that he will kill the b****** if and when he ever finds out who he is, and the only thing keeping him from killing Clara is the alcohol - plus the odd beating around the head in an unfriendly manner.

    And so we have the five characters making up this wander through Spanish life. Elena is a bit of a junkie and when Victor contacts her for the date she agreed to, she palms him off as she is awaiting a delivery from her dealer. When Victor turns up on her doorstep, she mistakenly lets him in thinking it is her dealer. When she discovers her mistake, she tries to get rid of Victor by threatening him with a gun. The neighbours hear the struggle and what sounds like a gun shot and so call the police - the nearest available officers being Sancho and David. When they arrive to defuse the situation a struggle ensues and David is shot. The gunshot renders him a paraplegic.

    We then jump a further five years forward, with Victor serving out the last of his time on his prison sentence. He discovers that David is now a well known wheelchair athlete and is married to Elena. Victor is not happy and plans his revenge. Upon leaving jail, Victor heads back to the house left him by his mother (along with an inheritance) and he seeks his place back in society, having used his time in prison quite wisely. Visiting his mother's grave, he happens upon a funeral for Elena's father and his ability to exact his revenge is presented to him. With his life becoming more and more entangled with that of a woman who missed the funeral, the lives of the five characters begin to intertwine quite closely in something more than a bizarre love triangle - let us say a bizarre love hexagon - that has significant repercussions upon all five people.

    The film ends with an event evoking the opening of the film but clearly demonstrating how much Spain had changed over the course of the near thirty years between the beginning and the end.

    Aside from the rather weak opening - although necessary to make the point at the end of the film - there really is something not quite right about the film. The result is something that variously seems to engage you and then meanders off somewhere without you. As indicated above, this is probably indicative of the fact that Pedro Almodovar's vision of film making was still being formed and he was searching for the formula to realise his vision. Even though not perfectly formed, there is still plenty here to enjoy and plenty to admire. Some of the camera work is excellent as well as being a little subtle, and generally the technical side of things is more than acceptable. Perhaps a little less freneticism could have been advantageous at times but that would be a minor quibble. It would also be fair to say that the quality of the acting here is not quite where it needs to be to carry off what the director was intending. I certainly found little engaging in the performance of Javier Bardem for instance and José Sancho just gets plain annoying. The rest, however, seem to be more than capable. The fault really probably lies in the screenplay, which really is nothing much to write home about and at times seems to be rather clichéd. If anything, that is where the film really fails to engage - it simply lacks any distinctive character of its own.

    Still, the overall film is worth watching even if it is not the most engaging film ever. Just don't expect a masterpiece, as seems to be the expectation with Pedro Almodovar nowadays. This is no masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    According to the Internet Movie Database, the film was shot anamorphically. In common with just about every film I have ever seen committed to DVD that was shot anamorphically, this is a nice, sharp and detailed transfer in most respects. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and it is 16x9 enhanced. The ratio is in accordance with the theatrical aspect ratio.

    Aside from a few lapses here and there that I would suggest are inherent in the source material, this is a really good transfer. Sharpness is generally excellent, detail is very good and shadow detail more than adequate. There are a few places where perhaps the shadow detail could have been better, but I would assume that this was a deliberate choice by the director. Clarity is excellent throughout with virtually no indication of any issues with grain.

    The colours if anything are slightly muted, and somewhat pastelly early on in the film - no doubt a deliberate choice to emphasise the nature of the times. These progress towards being bright and vibrant thereafter. Blacks are well handled and there really is not much to worry about here. There are no indications of any oversaturation nor any colour bleed.

    Aside from one instance of some resolution loss in a downward pan at 56:15, which I would tend to think is inherent in the source material, there did not appear to be any MPEG artefacts in the transfer. There were surprisingly few film-to-video artefacts in the transfer, the main ones noted being some aliasing at 0:44 in the wire, some minor moiré artefacting at 31:28 in the railing and some aliasing in the roof at 90:44. None of this was anything more than minor and would hardly need to be mentioned but for completeness sake. There were some dirt specks here and there in the transfer, but this was generally a clean transfer.

    This is an RSDL formatted DVD, with the layer change coming at 64:02. Whilst it is a little noticeable, it is not really disruptive to the flow of the film.

    There is just the single English subtitle option on the DVD - it is selectable and not burnt in - but as to how good it is? Since it seemed to make sense in the flow of the film, I am presuming that they are a reasonable representation of the original dialogue.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There is just the one soundtrack on the DVD, being an Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Once again, some will decry the fact that there is no English dub of the film, but in my book, good on Madman Entertainment for resisting the urge to provide such a soundtrack. Of course, having no other choice means it was Spanish for me with a side serve of English subtitles.

    The film is really not one requiring much in the way of a soundtrack as it is quite heavily dialogue driven. The dialogue comes up well in the transfer and (providing you understand Spanish) you should have no problems understanding what is being said. There were a few places where I felt the audio sync was not exactly spot on but I could not be sure. Perhaps it is my unfamiliarity with the language that is the problem.

    Just like the later film, the original score comes from Alberto Iglesias. It is a more than decent effort but simply lacks any great distinctiveness in my mind. It serves the film rather well if a little banally at times.

    The soundtrack is a generally quite excellent effort too, although hardly making the most dynamic use of the six channels. The film does not require much in the way of surround use, and when required it generally comes up well. However, there are times when a bit more would have been nice - most especially during the basketball games. The bass channel hardly gets much of a look in at all, but is acceptable enough when it does.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    At least an effort is made but in truth it is hardly a wondrous effort.

Menu

    Nothing special and let down a little by a poor highlight - sometimes it is difficult to see exactly what is highlighted.

Theatrical Trailer (1:33)

    Noteworthy for a lack of dialogue, meaning this is almost certainly not the original Spanish effort, there is nothing really appealing about this effort. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, it is not 16x9 enhanced and features Dolby Digital 2.0 surround encoded sound. This and the next two trailers are in the section called Almodovar Trailers.

Trailer - Talk To Her (1:35)

   It is really interesting to see this on the DVD as the Australian DVD release was not through Madman Entertainment! I don't recall having seen a distributor promoting the film of another distributor (although no doubt plenty will now remind me of the dozens of instances that are around and that I am forgetting). It is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. It has selectable English subtitles for the small amount of dialogue included. There is a bit of aliasing in the presentation.

Trailer - All About My Mother (1:41)

   Perhaps the best of his films by most accounts, this somewhat soft looking effort is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Like the rest of the trailers, it is not 16x9 enhanced. The sound is reasonable Dolby Digital 2.0.

Biography - Pedro Almodovar

   Given that he is perhaps the most famous and essential Spanish director of the age, seven pages of notes seems a little sparse. I don't know whether it is just me but the presentation seemed to be a little out of focus.

Trailer - Amores Perros (2:08)

   This and the remaining four trailers are part of the obligatory Madman Propaganda section of the package. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, this is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. It seems to be a bit dark but is otherwise of acceptable quality.

Trailer - Samsara (2:16)

   Having a slightly unnatural look at times, and with some obvious grain at times, this is not the best looking effort ever seen (although probably better than what follows to be sure). It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, it is also not 16x9 enhanced and features Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. There are a few film artefacts floating around, quite noticeable at the end of the trailer.

Trailer - Nine Queens (1:50)

   Not a wholly successful trailer but apart from some aliasing there is nothing wrong with the technical side of things. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, it is another depressingly not 16x9 enhanced effort and features decent Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Trailer - Rain (2:23)

   The most intriguing of the films advertised and the one trailer that really piqued my interest in the film it was promoting. The presentation is not too shabby, in 1.85:1 aspect ratio, again not 16x9 enhanced and with decent Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Trailer - Dinner Rush (1:55)

   Looking pretty ordinary (and that is being very kind), this is in general a poor effort. The audio is not very good and the whole thing looks very dreary before even considering the aliasing that is going on. One hopes the film does not look this poor. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, it is not 16x9 enhanced and has the aforementioned poor audio in Dolby Digital 2.0 format.

DVD Credits

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 release of the film seems to be similar to the Region 4 in most substantive ways, although the extras package is less acceptable - it only features the theatrical trailer apparently. By the accounts found it would seem that in the important matters of the audio and video transfers it is pretty similar in quality to the Region 4 release. The Region 2 (UK) appears to be very similar to the Region 1 extras-wise, but has two fundamental failings according to the review I sighted: it is not 16x9 enhanced and it has burned in subtitles. So it would appear that the Region 4 package would be the winner, with just a little bit more in the way of extras, the essential 16x9 enhancement and selectable subtitles.

Summary

    Not in the same sort of class as his later film Hable con Ella, Live Flesh nonetheless is better than what many a director can turn out nowadays. The excellent technical quality of the DVD release is certainly better than the quality of the film itself. Overall, I am glad that I have seen the film and I will return to it again, simply not as often as I will to Hable con Ella.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Thursday, January 29, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

Other Reviews
DVD Net - Anthony H (read my bio)
Jeff K's Australian DVD Info Site - Angela A

Comments (Add) NONE