Jamón, Jamón

(1992)
   The first installment in his Andrés Vicente Gómez-produced "Iberian trilogy," Jamón Jamón (which can be translated as "The real cured ham") constituted for Bigas Luna a return to critical attention (the film won the Silver Lion at the 1992 Venice Film Festival) and an attempt to tackle more commercial projects after his frustrating American experiences and the failure of the adaptation Las edades de Lulú (The Ages of Lulu, 1990). Still, his former obsessions, already present in earlier experimental films like his 1978 serial killer diary Bilbao (including food, old-fashioned machismo, castrating mothers, women's breasts, and fetishism) are very much at the center of the story, and this remains one of his most personal films.
   The title refers to a very specific Spanish variety of very strongly flavored cured ham, typical of the Aragonese region, where the narrative takes place. Like so many elements in the film, food, particularly ham and Spanish omelette, is important as a symbol of a way of life that has not yet been completely refined (or repressed) by civilization. Sex and food are presented as two important facets of such ancestral cultural identity. The film also makes use of some features of the Spanish landscape, most notably the bulls traditionally used to advertise Veterano brandy placed along Spanish main roads.
   The narrative centers on the rivalry of two mothers, male underwear manufacturer Conchita and brothel owner Carmen, played respectively by Stefania Sandrelli and Anna Galiena. Conchita's son José Luis (Jordi Mollá) has been fooling around with Silvia (Penélope Cruz), who is Conchita's daughter; when he realizes she is pregnant and offers to marry her, his class-conscious mother decides to intervene by sending brutal macho man Raúl (Javier Bardem) to seduce the girl and break up the relationship. But things get complicated and end up tragically as Conchita falls desperately in love (or rather in lust) with Raúl, a stud featured prominently in an underwear ad campaign, and becomes madly jealous.
   Jamón, Jamón was released internationally; it was a big hit in Great Britain and, especially, Italy (the latter had participated in co-production). The cast is particularly remarkable: together with two Italian actresses established in previous decades, there were three new promising stars of Spanish cinema in career-defining roles, Cruz, Bardem, and Mollá, who went on to be among the most important Spanish actors of the 1990s.

Historical dictionary of Spanish cinema. . 2010.

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