Angel (Antonio Banderas) is a confused young man who is training to be a bullfighter, despite the wishes of his widowed mother that he study agriculture. He discusses things with the Maestro, Diego (Nacho Martínez), who teaches him, a man whose own career as a matador ended when he was gored and rendered lame. Diego is surprised that Angel is still a virgin, and suggests that he treat women as he would a bull if he wants to seduce them. Meanwhile lawyer Maria (Assumpta Serna) indulges in her pasttime of seducing handsome young men and killing them while having sex - soon all three of these characters will meet, to influence each other in a detrimental way...
The erotic thriller was quite fashionable in the nineteen-eighties and nineties, and Matador was Pedro Almodóvar's attempt to join in, assisted by co-writer Jesús Ferrero. With its femme fatale who murders her sexual partners, this predated Paul Verhoeven's Basic Instinct by about five years, but it was also influenced by the preceeding giallo thrillers of Italy, as Almodóvar pays unlikely tribute to under the opening credits, with clips of deaths playing on videotape while Diego thoroughly enjoys himself with them. Yes, Diego is just as messed up as Maria and Angel, so you could say they were made for each other.
Instead of going to a popular night spot and picking up a woman there, Angel spies on his neighbour, Eva (Eva Cobo), showering, and then proceeds to rape her in the street when she goes out - or at least that's his plan until he suffers premature ejaculation before he can get that far. Immediately Angel is filled with remorse, and we informed that his deeply religious upbringing has twisted his mind thanks to an overbearing mother, and having committed a sin, Angel feels he must be punished. But when he visits the police station to turn himself in, he encounters a problem.
That is, Eva, who is Diego's girlfriend, doesn't want to press charges and would rather forget the whole thing ever happened. Therefore stuck for punishment, Angel impulsively confesses to four murders, believing this will take care of his penitence. The police have to take him seriously, but we know that at least one of the killings has been committed by Maria, which we saw at the start of the film. As if this wasn't convoluted enough, Maria now takes the position of Angel's lawyer, which eventually leads to fateful meeting with Diego and they recognise they share a common bond.
Yes, they're both killers, and Almodóvar aims to draw comparisons between the death in the bullring and death in the bedroom - Maria lands the death blow with her long, spiked hairpin. This means a lack of surprise tends to hamper the tension, as once you have the measure of the plot, and have noted the clip of Duel in the Sun featured prominently, it's obvious how events will turn out. Another drawback is that Matador is too elegant in presentation to match the intensity of its ideas, with Almodóvar more interested in a classy presentation than the delirium required to make the most of the supposed passion. In fact, the whole experience leaves a chilly impression; perhaps an all-out camp approach would have been more effective? As often with this director, the work is not as outrageous as it sounds. Music by Bernardo Bonezzi.
[Matador is available on Region 2 DVD as part of the Pedro Almodóvar Collection, which also includes Law of Desire, Flower of My Secret and Kika. Special features include trailers and specially filmed introductions.]