The following post (which contains some minor spoilers) is for Nethaniel's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" series at The Film Experience. Head over there to check it out!
Perhaps the most prevalent theme in Pedro Almodovar's film Matador is the relationship between the masculine and feminine side within each person. In fact, much of the action of the film relies on this relationship, through the parallel that Almodovar creates between gender and violence - a parallel that is brought to life through the strange love affair between the characters Diego (Nacho Martinez) and Maria (Assumpta Serna).
Thus, even though Matador is a visual feast, and there are many shots that can be singled out for praise, there was one that I kept going back to.
In this shot, we see Maria carefully applying lipstick while sitting in her car. At this point, Maria has already been established as both a murderer and as sporting a rather "masculine" public persona. Her short hair and her stark black and white business outfit are cold, emotionless, and unsentimental. In the film, mirrors are used numerous times as symbols of introspection and internal reflection and thus gaining such an intimate view (notice the closeup) of an indelibly feminine aspect of Maria feels almost voyeuristic. However, we're not the only ones looking...
Diego is spying on Maria as well, and again, through a mirror. It's interesting that the first time in the film that Maria sets her eye on Diego, whom she has idolized for years, it's through his secondhand reflection - there's already this disconnection between these two hopeless people on the path to destroying one another (literally).
And then, perhaps my favorite moment of this shot - Maria drops her lipstick onto her lap, shocked after realizing she was being spied on. The lipstick leaves a small, bright scarlet mark on her skirt. It's a fleeting moment, but so important - even though she's abandoning her briefly vulnerable femininity through dropping the lipstick, Diego has already exposed something hidden in her, and that small little mark is proof. Plus, this is an Almodovar film - the color red is obviously important.
The shot is short but it sets up the entire remaining duration of the movie perfectly. In fact, the trajectory of this introduction to Maria and Diego's relationship doesn't quite come full circle until towards the end, when Maria reveals her obsession with Diego to him.
It's a frightening and sinister moment, and it completes the arc that began with their first meeting, setting new events into action. Matador may not be Almodovar's most brilliant film but it is still a fascinating and daring piece of work that captivates its audience in a macabre manner, making us not so much different than the "despicable" characters onscreen.