Director: Pedro Almodovor

Pedro Almodovor’s Kika opens with a rather erotic photography session initially shot through a peephole. As it proceeds, we are introduced to a slew of characters who appear to live their lives with their eyes glued to some sort of peephole or other, including a bizarre leather clad woman who hosts a TV show on the order of America’s Most Wanted and Cops, that turns private tragedy into public entertainment. Rape, murder, and other crimes are recorded as they happen by the camera mounted on her head, then played back to the television audience.

The film centers on the title character, a wide-eyed but not particularly innocent cosmetician who’s married to a photographer. A writer played by Peter Coyote enters her life after he autographs his latest novel for her during a book store appearance. Coyote leaves his phone number along with his signature, and Kika (Veronica Forque) later visits his home expecting a roll in the sack. Instead she is asked to turn her makeup skills to the task of making his dead brother, whose body is lying in the bedroom, more presentable before he is sent to the morgue. Oops! Wait a second. I’m not sure if that was his brother or not, but one thing is certain: the man wasn’t dead. Also playing roles in this study of eccentricity is the deranged reporter who hosts the TV show in which real videotaped crimes are presented, including Kika’s rape at the hands (actually it was another part of the man’s anatomy) of an escaped convict who is also a porno star. The con also has a sister, a lesbian employed as a maid in Kika’s home, which is why the con went to Kika’s in the first place. The maid suggested to her brother that he tie her up and gag her as a way to explain to her employer and the police how various valuables were stolen, but the maid ends up watching the rape of the woman to whom she is attracted.

It is the maid who provides the humor in the film. Explaining to Kika why she is attracted to women and has only had sex with one man (her brother, and only as a favor to him), she also speaks of how her ideal job would be as a maid in a woman’s prison where she would be surrounded by young girls.

One doesn’t actually have to endure the entire movie to see what’s going on here. Almodover is offering a commentary on voyeurism, of which he suggests we are all guilty, and on the dehumanizing effect of violence on television. In addition to the long scene in which the film’s lead character is raped, Joseph Losey’s The Prowler is glimpsed on a TV screen and a poster for Michael Powell’s career killing Peeping Tom hangs on a wall.

Unfortunately, this movie is an example of the very thing it criticizes. The people who made this film, Almodover in particular, are dehumanized. They are also naive in their arrogance since they don’t appear to realize that movies are "media" just as surely as television is. Kika may be meant as a critique of voyeurism, as well as the sexual exploitation of women, but, the fact is, it glorifies both. Nor does Almodover have an original message. Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window explored the notion of the cinema as an indulgence for the peeping Tom in all of us, and did it much more subtly and effectively. The corrosive influence of television, another of Almodover’s targets, was also old hat by the time of Kika, having been examined by Paddy Chayefsky and director Sidney Lumet twelve years earlier in Network.

As for the subplots in the film, none of them work because a subplot needs a plot to sub for, and Kika doesn’t really have one. What stands out in the end is Peter Coyote’s unconvincing appearance as the writer. His voice is dubbed into Spanish, and never does the voice that emerges from his mouth sound genuine. Then again, nothing in this movie is genuine, so Coyote is right at home. Even the title is false. Kika? It should have been called Kaka.

Brian W. Fairbanks

© Copyright 1999, Brian W. Fairbanks. All Rights Reserved.

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