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Jamon Jamon

Rated R, 95 min. Directed by J.J. Bigas Luna. Starring Stefania Sandrelli, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Anna Galiena, Jordi Molla, Juan Diego.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., March 4, 1994

Jamon Jamon proves that Pedro Almodovar isn't the only rascally director these days to be mining the rich Spanish soil. Jamon Jamon (which translates as Ham Ham) is a dark comedy about… well, ham and ham bones and sex and bulls and motherhood and garlic. To describe the delicious plot of this comedy in too much detail is to invite problems. This is the first of director Luna's films to hit big (sort of) in the States. Its cheeky flavor shares much of the post-Franco, post-Bunuel sense of Spain that Almodovar encapsulates so well. With its sardonic narrative tone and earthy visual textures, Jamon Jamon sends-up targets like machismo, pretense, advertising imagery and classic dreams of success. Like any good comedy, the laughs are in its unfolding and the best is left unsaid. In a nutshell, the movie is about two different families and the chain of events and associations that occur after Silvia (Cruz) becomes pregnant with Jose Luis's (Molla) child. Silvia is the daughter of the proprietress of the desert town's roadside whorehouse, Carmen (Galiena). Jose Luis is the rich, spoiled child of Manuel (Diego) and Conchita (Sandrelli), the married owners of a men's underwear factory (which provides ample sources of humor). Mama Conchita, in an effort to break up the romance between her son and Silvia (who works in the underwear factory) hires Raul, one of the male underwear models who impresses her with the way he fills out his shorts, to steal Silvia away from her son. But then this sanctimonious mom finds herself hot for this Marky Mark model and buys his love with a motorbike and promises of a BMW. And then it looks like Jose Luis was probably making it with Silvia's mom. And Jose Luis's dad was… well, check it out. Ham haunches, which have provided so much of the movie's humor, become instruments of drama by the movie's end. Symbols and sentiments are merely artifacts to be skewered. Even more than Almodovar, it is Paul Bartel whom Bigas most reminds me of. This is a contemporary Spanish Scenes From the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills. It has so much of that sly and deviously wicked sensibility that Bartel's films evidence. Jamon Jamon is a fun and farcical ride.
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