8 May 2016 | Charlot47
Oedipus gets his mother back from the dead
A film one can take on various levels. The overt story is of Juan, a man whose emotions are frozen in his childhood at the point when his beautiful sexy mother, loving the boy too closely after his father abandoned them, took an overdose in front of the hapless child. These traumas he seems unable to leave behind, living in their constant shadow. We know he is trapped, because his practical sister Marta has got on with her life, marrying and having three children while he broods alone.
The siblings can be seen as two halves of Spanish society. One lives in the present, without any apparent illusions, while the other is mentally in a past he cannot escape. The siege of Madrid, its population short of food and fuel being bombed nightly by the Germans. The absent father, in his case safe in Argentina with another woman. The mother, without any authorised outlet for her desire, who flirts shockingly with her pre- teen son. The unfeeling uncles, one of whom brags of his exploits fighting for the Germans in Russia while the other matter-of-factly takes the boy to his usual brothel for an early initiation.
Though Juan's mental landscape can be pitied, even if he does rather revel in it, there is a strong temptation to view his search for lost time as comic rather than tragic. What is shown of his prosaic father and over-romantic mother, to say nothing of the somewhat eccentric family surrounding them, might suggest laughter as a response to their woes. After all, they are well-off middle class with a nice Madrid flat and a maid (who lets young Juan feel her breasts for a peseta a time) plus, most important after 1939, are on the victorious Nationalist side. Even his mother's suicide, heartlessly cruel to the boy, is done in an Emma Bovary style of drama.
The suspicion of black comedy is reinforced at the end when the actress Berta, long unsure how to relate to Juan, works out that she must treat him like a ten-year-old and starts scrubbing him maternally in his bath. He has got his mother back from the dead, pretty and loving and all his!