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February 09, 2008

Golden Balls

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Huevos de Oro
Bigas Luna - 1993
Lolafilms Region 1 DVD

With Javier Bardem receiving a slew of awards lately, it's a good time to look at his earlier work. Certainly the title of this film should be enough to elicit notice. Bardem has typically portrayed characters who are generally self-assured, and it does not take much to imagine what the title means. Bigas Luna makes certain that the viewer gets the, er, point of the film with a plethora of phallic imagery.

Golden Balls moves into unexpected directions as a film about a man whose sexual and professional identities are firmly connected. The symbolic aspects of the film are obvious. Bigas Luna isn't stating anything profound about Spanish machismo, or perhaps male identity in general. The strength of the film in the close-ups of lips, hands, shoes floating in a pool, a stopped Rolex, and ants exploring the human body. While Bardem's character speaks frequently about his admiration for Salvador Dali, and copies of his paintings are seen in his house, it is the images of the ants that brings to mind similar images from Un Chien Andalou.

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Bardem's Benito Gonzalez is convinced he can bluff his way into the construction business, with the the Spain's tallest building, in other words, a very big erection. Benito charms a model, Claudia, into his life, eventually keeping her as his mistress after marrying a prominent banker's daughter, Marta. For a brief period, Benito appears to have achieved his dreams. Where the story takes it turn from the comic is when the images of success collapse.

Unlike a film with a similar plot from an Anglo-American filmmaker, there is no shyness regarding the sexual aspects of Golden Balls. As Claudia, Maribel Verdu is first seen dancing on a table, her feet between large plates of paella. Even Maria de Medeiros, as Marta, eventually sheds her clothes and her demure manner. Even when Benito achieves his fantasy of having the two women at once, Luna lets us know that once Marta and Claudia discover each other, no one else is necessary. (It may be coincidental, but Woody Allen may be borrowing a page or two from Luna. Allen's new film shot in Spain stars Bardem involved in a menage a trois with two women who have their own relationship. One of the women is played by Penelope Cruz who gained international exposure starring with Bardem in Luna's Jamon, Jamon. Oscar watchers may want to note that Golden Balls features an early performance by future winner Benicio Del Toro.)

Based on his involvement with other artistic projects, the more obvious aspects of Golden Balls may say less about Luna's own sophistication than his desire to reach a mass audience. The scant information in English about Luna indicates that there is much more to explore beyond his films. It should be noted, for those with even less knowledge of Spanish than myself, that the title translates as "Eggs of Gold". And eggs appear throughout the film. It is a more apt metaphor for masculinity as well as slang for part of male anatomy. For Luna, men ultimately a like eggs - hard on the outside, soft inside, and unless handled carefully, quite fragile.

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Posted by peter at February 9, 2008 12:37 AM