Bigas Luna Box Set

Starring: Francesca Neri, Javier Bardem, Maria de Madeiros and Penelope Cruz
Tartan Video
RRP: 34.99
Certificate: 18
Available 26 March 2007

Bigas Luna (born March 1946) is a well respected, multitalented, Spanish writer, actor, painter and director. This remastered box set contains the first four of his major movie releases...

Although well respected, a lot of Bigas Luna's films did not travel well. Partly, this was due to the sexual imagery in his films, some of which boarders on the hardcore, but mostly I believe it was because of his fascination with Spanish male machismo - which tends to depict the majority of his male characters as self obsessed and emotionally stunted. It's up to the audience to decide whether their own sensibilities view the films as bordering on exploitation or an honest attempt to depict a particular form of sexuality.

The first film, The Ages of Lulu (Las Edades de Lulu 1990), most probably ranks as one of the most sexually explicit film on general release and certainly one of Luna's most explicit to date. As an exploration of the darker side of female sexuality it has much in common with Luis Bunuel's Belle de Jour (1967) or Just Jaeckin's Histoire d'O (1975), though in the case of Lulu, far from becoming sexually submissive, she quickly transforms from enthusiastic amateur to a sexual predator, trawling the late night bars looking for men to have a threesome with. The film was based on an erotic novel by Almudena Grandes.

The film won a Goya award for best supporting actress and was nominated for a further two. The film is presented in what appears to be, for the first time, an uncut version. Previous versions had a lot of the more extreme sexual images excised prior to release. The film is an uncompromising look at the evolution of one woman's sexuality.

When we first meet Lulu (Francesca Neri) she is an innocent who looses her virginity to her brother's best friend. Following her first sexual encounter Lulu completely transforms, and after her and Pablo (Oscar Ladoire) are married, they whip out an A to Z of sexual experiences and work their way through. Along the way Lulu and Pablo make friends with Ely (Maria Barranco) a transvestite prostitute, who quickly becomes a close friend and sexual partner.

Unfortunately, for Lulu, she discovers that her husband has absolutely no boundaries when, following a party, he arranges for her to be blindfolded and have sex with her own brother. Appalled, Lulu leaves him, determining never to be a sexual object ever again - and so begins her journey to a much darker sexuality.

Films, such as this, tend to polarise audiences. Some will view the movie as an honest work charting Lulu's fall from grace, where as others will see it as an arty porn flick. The film was well received in his native Spain, where there may have been a greater understanding of what Luna was trying to do.

The print on the DVD is excellent, with a rich colour pallet and nice skin tones. Sound is stereo, but that works well for this dialogue heavy film, which is in Spanish with optional English subtitles. The DVD has the original Theatrical Trailer as an extra, which is set to Lou Reed's Walk on the Wild Side, a track which also appears in the film.

The second film in the collection is Jamon Jamon (1992), now famous for featuring Penelope Cruz's breasts, one of which apparently tastes like eggs, whereas the other tastes like ham - now there's a trick you don't see everyday. The film won four awards, mostly for Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz, and was nominated for a further nine.

This is an altogether darker game of sexual consequences, if that was possible. Penelope Cruz plays Silvi, the daughter of the local brothel owner, Carmen (Anna Galiena). When the wealthy Jose (Jordi Molla) falls for Silvi's obvious charms his mother, Conchita (Stefania Sandrelli), is appalled. In an effort to break the couple up Jose's mother hires a local hunk, Raul (Javier Bardem) to seduce and sleep with Silvi. However, not only does Raul start a sexual affair with Conchita, but also falls in love with Silvi. You can already tell that this isn't going to end well.

If nothing else you've got to love a film with the surreal sight of two men trying to brain each other with legs of ham. In fact this film has pig references all the way through, and honest to god I have no idea why. There is always the idea of food and sex both being sensual pleasures which has been used before, though Jamon Jamon lends itself much more to the absurdist humour of Monty Python. The factory which Conchita owns makes underpants and has the proud quote "Inside every mans pants is a salmon". It's the sort of thing that you feel must be deep and meaningful but for the most part just comes over as funny.

As a film, this little domestic tragedy has a better constructive narrative to Lulu, though the cast play their parts equally well.

The DVD has a good print, although there is some noticeable damage towards the end. Audio is Spanish stereo with optional subtitles. Extras are once again the original Theatrical Trailer.

Golden Balls (Huevos de oro 1993) won four awards and was nominated for a further three. The film is an exploration of machismo which is enshrined in the famous quote "I have two balls, two Rolex's, why can't I have two women?" What Gordon Geko was to Wall Street, Javier Bardem's character Benito Gonzalez is to architecture, his desire to have a skyscraper erected in his honour is the most blatant and ridiculous use of a phallic symbol.

But then that's the point. The story of a man who is so wrapped up in himself that he would marry a woman he does not love, whilst trying to hold on to his true love, just to get a monument to his manhood erected, surely shows just how much Luna obviously despises this part of male sexuality. Thematically, it also explains the extremes of The Ages of Lulu, though Luna continues to move away from the grittiness of Lulu to more overt comedies as Benito's quest for the ultimate male monument comes to nothing, as he gradually loses everything.

This being a Luna film there is the odd smattering of sex, well a lot of it really intermixed with some bafflingly funny visuals.

Like the other films the DVD comes with a nice stereo soundtrack, though this time there is a piece by Luna himself as an extra, which discusses the film.

For the film buffs amongst you look out for an early role by Benicio Del Toro as Bob.

The Tit and the Moon (Teta I la Lluna, La 1994) finished off Luna's trilogy of comedies, which included Golden Balls and Jamon Jamon and without a doubt is the most surreal of the three films. The film won a Golden Osella at the Venice film Festival.

Tete (Bien Duran) is the apple of his parents' eye, unfortunately Tete has some confidence issues, and these finally come to a head when the family has a new baby. Convinced, by his mother's constant breast feeding, that there is not enough love to go round, he journeys off to find a breast of his own. Finds one too, clever little chap. An absurd premise gives birth to an absurdly funny film.

Although this could be viewed as another sex comedy, there is something innocently endearing about Tete's quest for a breast of his own. At nine years of age Tete still equates breasts with comfort and love, rather than an odd way of tuning a radio.

The film apparently will be released with a 5.1, stereo and DTS track, though the review disc only came as a fine and clear stereo track. Extras continue to be better than expected with another piece by Luna about the film. For good measure, Tartan has thrown in the original Theatrical Trailer and a Trailer Reel.

If you're a fan of Luna's work, then this box set is a must. The prints are better than any previous release and a lot of the cuts have been returned to the films. As a casual viewer, you may find Lulu shocking, but placed in the context of Luna's dislike for machismo it makes a little more sense.

Charles Packer

Buy this item online
We compare prices online so you get the cheapest deal!
Click on the logo of the desired store below to purchase this item.

£26.24 (Amazon.co.uk)
£27.99 (Play.com)
£24.99 (HMV.co.uk)
£29.89 (Sendit.com)
£26.99 (Bensons-world.co.uk)

All prices correct at time of going to press.