Jamon, Jamon (Spain , 1992)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Jamon, Jamon, a "tale of ham and passion" (and literally translated Ham, Ham) could perhaps be described as a "Grade B art film." Although possessing a biting wit and excellent sense of the offbeat, too much of Jamon, Jamon follows obvious paths. Had this been made in Hollywood, it would be on the fast track to the late night cable circuit.

When Silvia (Penelope Cruz) breaks the news to her boyfriend Manuel (Juan Diego) that she's pregnant, he immediately proposes, giving her a soda-can top ring to seal the engagement. And, while Silvia's mom Carmen (Anna Galiena), the local whore, is pleased with the arrangement, Manuel's mother Conchita (Stefina Sandrelli) is outraged. Intent upon breaking up the prospective marriage at all costs, Conchita hires Raul (Javier Bardem), a would-be bullfighter with all brawn and little brains, to woo Silvia away from Manuel.

One of the most obvious problems with Jamon, Jamon is its subpar acting. Everyone in this film looks good (especially Penelope Cruz, Anna Galiena of The Hairdresser's Husband, and Javier Bardem), but even the most accomplished performers have at least one bad sequence (although, in all honesty, Cruz, who also appears in Belle Epoque, emanates such sensuality that it's easy to overlook her less-impressive acting moments). There are several scenes likely to cause winces because of the inability of certain cast members to adequately deliver their lines.

Jamon, Jamon never reaches a stable tone, vacillating between absurd comedy and over-the-top melodrama. For variety, there's also a sequence of surprisingly graphic violence. The film is at its best when it ventures into the realm of eroticism (had it gone to the MPAA for rating, an NC-17 would have been likely), and some of the humor during the sex scenes is among the most amusing.

The absurd is clearly Jamon, Jamon's playground, with ham and garlic as appetizers for every activity from lovemaking to duels with animal haunches. The movie is steeped in sex, and sometimes it's all-but-impossible to figure out who's sleeping with whom. Or, perhaps more appropriately, who isn'teping with whom. And then there's the naked bullfight...

Jamon, Jamon is missing the element which could blend its disparate segments into an engagingly campy whole. Without this, it seems like a cheap cross between last year's Like Water For Chocolate and the French Delicatessen. Jamon, Jamon is good for a moment's diversion, but the overall impression is more of a ham sandwich than a full meal.

Jamon, Jamon (Spain , 1992)

Director: Bigas Luna
Cast: Penelope Cruz, Anna Galiena, Javier Bardem, Stefania Sandrelli, Juan Diego
Screenplay: Cuca Canals and Bigas Luna
Cinematography: José Luis Alcaine
Music: Nicola Piovani
U.S. Distributor: Academy Entertainment
Run Time: 1:30
U.S. Release Date: -
MPAA Rating: "NR" (Sexual Situations, Nudity, Profanity, Violence)
Subtitles: Spanish with English subtitles
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1