psychoanalysis of La mujer más fea del mundo (1999)
Cine, Psicoanálisis y Feminismo.
A previous version of this paper will appear in Steven Marsh and Parvati
Nair (eds.), "Spanish cinema and gender", Berg, August, 2004.
To my friend Céline Bel
According to the film critic José Luis Martínez Montalbán
(2000), La mujer más fea del mundo (1999), scripted by Nacho
Baerna and directed by Miguel Bardem, 'can be taken as the prototype
of contemporary Spanish cinema' (p. 398). Produced with significant
financial backing,i it counted on prestigious names in both technical
and artistic areas,ii and was released on the wave of a major publicity
campaign addressed specifically to a youth audience: the film was promoted
as a 'science-fiction noir thriller'.
In spite of its alleged 'prototypical' Spanish qualities, the film bears
the hallmarks of a 1990s Hollywood production. Bearing in mind that
Hollywood cinema is part of the Spanish cinematic context, and not a
"foreign cinematic tradition", as argued in nationalist readings
of Spanish films,iii La mujer más fea del mundo can be seen as
'a science-fictional prototype' in which the circuit of symbolic exchange
between cinemasiv is restored on the basis of an antagonistic reciprocity
(Baudrillard, 1985: 102). Contrary to 1990s multinational noir films,
but similar to both 1940s Hollywood romantic noir filmsv and many science
fiction films that "present us with potentially terrifying elements
of dystopia" but that finally reassert "the qualities of humanity"
(King and Krzywinska, 2000: 18) this Hollywood film made in Spain displays
a happy ending scenario of love. It could be argued that the classical
happy ending scenario of love - in which "the miracle of the Other
stretching his or her hand out to me" (Zizek, 1997: 192) is displayed
- functions in La mujer más fea del mundo as a means to establish
an inter-textual dialogue not only with similar endings in 1940s Hollywood
noir films but also with different endings in other 1990s noir thrillers
with 'female avenger'.vi
1. La mujer más fea del mundo announces from the outset (before
the film's title credits appear on screen) that it is going to deal
with the Real dimension of the body, that is, with the body as 'living
flesh' driven to death. The film opens with the steadily increasing
sound of boiling. A fade in introduces the spectator to a formless,
organic, and yellowish image that resembles a 'volcanic brain'. The
words Madrid. 1 de enero de 1982. Clínica La Milagrosa. 1:00
AM (Madrid. 1st of January of 1982. The Miracolous clinic. 1:00 am)
superimposed on screen inform us of the location, the date, and the
hour of the birth of Lola Otero, the female character that is to occupy
the position of the movie's protagonist. Following the cinematic conventions
of 1970s horror movies, which often shape the science-fiction genre
(see Creed, 1993), the film leads the spectator, by identification with
the character of the nurse that initiates the action of an unsettling
camera, to witness 'the horror' that the sight of the female body provokes
in the (female) other. The construction of 'sexual difference' (girl
= pink blanket, "prettiness", the mythical name of 'the beautiful
Otero')vii does not integrate the sight of the (off-screen) Real body:
the sequence ends with a low-angled medium close-up of the nurse screaming
while covering up her ears. The camera approaches her face and finally
'enters' her open mouth. Fade out to black.
The fade out to black that ends the film's pre-title sequence, can be
seen to constitute the narrative, traumatic originary point ('lethal'
jouissance) which "cannot be positively signified" but only
"shown, in a negative gesture, as the inherent failure of symbolization"
(Zizek, 1997: 217; see also Copjec, 1994: 123). For the fade out to
black not only functions as an internal textual limit (the Real of the
body is excluded from the field of representation) but also as a sign
of violent textual ruptureviii from which meaning originates (Zizek,
1997: 161): there is a fade in to a full-screen 'volcanic brain' from
which the film's title emerges, like silvered mercury. The camera approaches
the word 'ugly' (fea), and the word dissapears like silvered dust. Ugliness,
then, is not only the film's initial missing representation (fade out
to black) but also the film's 'originally repressed' representation
(Zizek, 1989: 159).
After the film's title, the spectator is introduced to a science-fiction
noir scenario. This scenario opens with a long shot of a Blade Runner-type
(Ridley Scott, 1983) Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927) with the similarly
silvered lettering announcing: 'Madrid. Federal District. New Year's
Eve 2010. 23:45 PM', while an 'exotic'/masculine/retro-futurist pasodoble
- 'Patricia' - is heard in the soundtrack.ix It can be argued that the
film qualifies this music as both masculine (it is first heard in this
male-centered narrative sequence to become the male protagonist's musical
motif) and exotic: it is heard in a science-fictional context both at
the level of the visual (Metropolis, Blade Runner) and at the level
of the narrative (Spain is represented as a Republic). It could also
be added that the absence of 'woman' from this heterosexual dance music
scenario, functions to qualify 'masculinity', embodied by the male character,
as itself exotic: a dystopian, science-fictional identity 'from which
individuality and love are suppressed' (see, King and Krzywinska, 2000:
p. 15 and p. 76).
The wide-screen film/TV image of an explosion (long shot of the deliberate
crash of two space-ships in a science-fiction film shown on a TV set)
abruptly wakes the Lieutenant Arribas into a 'traumatic reality'. The
reverse shot of a medium close-up of him changing to another TV channel,
is a full-screen TV clock striking twelve. A female TV presenter is
heard saying: "Happy 2011!!. Greetings to you, your family, and
all your nearest and dearest who are sharing this special moment with
you. Nobody can feel alone on a night like this. [the Lieutenant begins
to cough and leaves] Today is the first day of our lives. Be happy!".
The second sequence of the film opens with 'a home' where old people
are celebrating a New Year's Eve party and with a long shot of Lola's
menacing shadow approaching the building. A series of travelling shots
from her subjective view point along the empty corridors are cut with
shots of the party where a 'dirty old man'x is taking a polaroid of
an elderly beautiful lady he is attracted to, Ms. Lidia, as she is about
to leave the party to go to her bedroom. The intruder, disguised as
a nun (with the attire of the Mother Theresa of Calcutta), attacks Ms.
Lidia, pushes her on to her bed, and stabs her to death.xi
It is because the film's enunciation inextricably entwines Lola Otero's
story and Lieutenant Arribas' story both through the way their initial
scenarios are displayed (Lola: horror scenario of traumatic birth/ film
title/ Arribas: noir scenario of traumatic waking to 'reality') and
through their forthcoming (but already in the present of the narrative)
'encounter' in a 'scenario of death', that it can be said that they
are from the beginning portrayed as a 'science-fiction noir couple'.
The film's poster (figure 1)xii also announces the noir dimension of
the film by setting out the conflict between 'the scenario of romance'
- the 'I only want to be loved' (at the bottom of the poster) defines
the motivation of the female protagonist's violent actions - and 'the
scenario of violent death' - Lola Otero is dressed to kill (Brian de
Palma, 1980) as a Matrix femme fatale while addressing a challenging
look to the spectator from its high position. In addition, the poster
qualifies the criminal scenarios that it announces as ambiguous or 'psycho-logical'.
For although in the film's poster the beautiful and demanding Lola wears
black, has dark glasses on, and holds a machine gun, the notion that
a dark monster-woman kills (to be loved) is dis-placed onto and condensed
in her monster-shaped, threatening shadow. 2. Following the conventions
of 1940s romantic noir films,xiii the Lieutenant's investigation of
the scene of the crime drives him to fall in love with the femme psycho-killer
(Krutnik, 1991: 4). The Lieutenant's narrative trajectory of investigation
begins in an ambiguous criminal scenario - 'the Mother Theresa of Calcutta'
stabs a beautiful old lady on her bed, after a scene in which this woman
has been flirting with a 'dirty old man' - and is triggered by a sexual
'scene of the crime': the sentence "new year, new life" written
in blood on the wall ('Mother' is in the scene of the crime), a group
of candles, and Ms. Lidia's corpse covered with semen (later in the
film it turns out to be wax). From his arrival at the scene of the crime,
the Lieutenant is portrayed as dominated by 'the scopic drive': he,
therefore, comes to re-place the position of 'the dirty old man' who
is also in the scene of the crime (semen-wax). In fact, he is depicted
as driven by pleasure in looking (Copjec, 1993: 182) in relation to
(a) the criminal's text and (b) the criminal's image, in a similar fashion
to the 'dirty old man'.
My reading of the Lieutenant's fascination with the criminal's image
finds its basis in one sequence where we see the Lieutenant looking
at the security-camera video from the old people's home while using
a taken-from Blade Runner Esper machine that enables him to get a printed
close-up of the beautiful female criminal, disguised as 'Mother Theresa'.
The Lieutenant's fascination with the criminal's image is connoted as
excessive by the film's enunciation: after getting 'the woman's image',
and while 'his pasodoble' is heard in the soundtrack, Arribas is shown
removing his hairpice, his false teeth, and his fake eye in his bath-room.
The portrayal of the Lieutenant as excessively fascinated with the criminal's
image offers a narrative motivation not only for his previous fascination
with the criminal's text, which strengthens his investigation of the
criminal's image, but also for his previous 'tracing of the invisible'
to weave a narrative of the crime. In a brief scene we witness Arribas
looking at the polaroid of Ms. Lidia taken by 'her suitor' and realizing
that Ms. Lidia's heart-shaped brooche is missing from its place (she
did not wear it at the scene of the crime). Through the Lieutenant's
"signifying description of the scene" around this trace that
is not visible in the scene of the crime, the film's enunciation (1)
portrays the Lieutenant as able to unmask "the imaginary unity
of the scene of the crime as it was staged by the assasin" (Zizek,
1991: 53) and (2) highlights Ms. Lidia's brooche as the visual-narrative
motif that marks both lack ('the impossible object of the drives') and
desire (the Lieutenant interprets this 'invisible object' is the prohibited
object) in this film (See Copjec, 1993: 175-9).
It is because the male character is depicted from the beginning not
only in the position of 'the Lieutenant' but also in the position of
'the male lover', that, in this film, which partly comes from 1940s
Hollywood noir films, the detective narrative can be read as an erotic-romantic
narrative (Palao Errando, 1994: 79). Lola, played by the fashion model
Elia Galera,xiv is indeed located in the sexually ambiguous narrative
position of jouissance by the film's enunciation (see, Cowie, 1993:
135-6). She comes to embody the fantasy of the femme fatale. Similarly
to 1940s romantic noir films, the Lieutenant's trajectory of investigation
of 'the crime' and of 'the woman' seems to echoe the film's enunciation
own investigation of 'masculine identity' (see Krutnik, 1991): for the
scene in which the Lieutenant is contemplating the scene of the motherly,
sexually ambiguous, crime gives way to an antagonistic Psycho [Alfred
Hitchcock, 1960] 'shower scene' in which a close-up of the criminal's
mentrual blood initiates a slow vertical pan that follows Lola's new
'perfect body' illegally created by Dr Werner the day of her eighteenth
birthday. 3. Like Rita Hayworth's in Gilda (1944), Lola embodies the
fe/male fantasy of the narcissistic/threatening other driven by revenge.
However, by setting out four flashbacks that represent the subjective
view point of Lola in the story world, the film's enunciation (1) psycho-socio
logically motivates Lola's criminal behaviour and (2) offers the possibility
of a 'fictional solution' both to the science-fictional/traumatic Real
dimension of the sexual body (the female protagonist's monstrous-killing
body, the male protagonist's weak-wounded body) and to an impersonal
ever-present time ('today is the first day of our lives').
Whereas Lola's first flashback (after the after-murder/erotic shower
scene) defines her as 'the daughter' of a blind 'religious mother' (as
a child, Lola lives in a nun-governed orphanage) for whom she has always
been 'pretty' because she looks at her 'with the eyes of the heart'
(the blind 'mother' gives her 'daughter' a crucifix, the beautiful Otero
wears around her neck throughout the film), Lola's second flashback
links her present narcissistic/aggressive sexual scenarios - owing to
her beauty Lola seduces a narcissistic male loverxv to her bed and,
after 'having fucked him' (this scene remains ellided), despises him
and expels him from her flat - to a re-active rejection of men.
In the present of the narrative, before the second flashback takes place,
'the most beautiful woman in the world' is in a bar looking at herself
disguised as a nun on the TV news (she is watching the video of herself
recorded by the security camera at the ols people's home) when 'the
most beautiful man in the world' approaches her, gives her a cigarrette
and tells her: 'Do you know what I was thinking of while I was looking
at you? I was thinking that as a child you must have been a very pretty
girl'. A metaphorical close-up of Lola's lit match is accompanied by
the words 'ugly, ugly!!' on the soundtrack. These words function as
the sounbridge to a flash-back scenario of rejection and abandonment:
a boy who loses in 'the match game', refuses to kiss the monstruous
Lola and convinces the other children to leave her behind.
Lola's third flashback (after a scene in which Lola visits her blind
'mother' and tells her she is not married because she has not found
'a man who truly loves her', that is, a man who loves her with the eyes
of the heart) locates her in a self-enclosed, and narcissistic Cinderella
scenario, organized according to 'the pleasure principle'. The monstrous
little Lola, alone in the girls' bedroom, wishes to become 'the most
beautiful woman on earth'.xvi This 'all-fulfilling scenario', however,
is defined by the film's enunciation as 'impossible'. The Other sex
('the ferocious wolf') enters the girls' bedroom and the scenario of
enjoyment shifts into a scenario of violence: a group of male adolescents
rape 'Cinderella' (off-screen). This scenario of rape, which is associated
to 'the taboo of virginity' (the third flashback is introduced by a
long shot of the statue of 'The Virgin of the Immaculate Heart of Maria'xvii
and is ended by a close-up of the Cinderella hand-mirror broken on the
floor of the girls' bedroom) retroactively deeps in Lola's exaggerated
hostility against men in the present of the narrative, a hostility,
that is, which exceeds the 'normal hostility' that always mediates the
relationships between the sexes (Freud, 1917 ).
The film, however, motivates Lola's present murderous/sexually aggresive
scenarios not only via a past scenario of male rape (the Real/traumatic
encounter with the other sex: third flashback) but also via a present
female Gothic romance film scenario.xviii The scenario of male rejection
(second flashback) returns in the present of the narrative via a soundbridge
of thunder claps and a dissolve to a close-up of a fairy-tale Quasimodo
mask that is in Lola's bedroom. The motif of 'the Quasimodo mask' in
the mise en scène of the ellided sexual/aggressive encounter
between Lola and 'the most beautiful man in the world' stands for the
repressed (Lola's disguised hostility against men) in the present of
the narrative: Lola murders women. The mask motif, moreover, in the
mise en scéne of the present of the narrative not only announces
that men are seen by Lola/the fe/male spectator as 'hiding' a dark side
('the most beautiful man in the world' steals Ms. Lidia's 'brooche'
from her handbag, while Lola is having 'an after-sex/after-murder shower'
off-screen) but also that the return of the repressed comes from the
future (Lacan, 1953-4: p. 239). Indeed, Lola's fourth and last subjective
flashback displays the repressed/disguised conflation between the film's
murderous scenarios and a female Gothic Oedipal scenarioxix: Lola's
attachment to/dependence on her lost Gothic lover (Luis Casanova)/science-fictional
'father' (Dr Werner).
Lola's fourth flashback takes place in a scene in which Lola is buying
a pair of high heeled shoes to hide a machine gun with which she intends
to kill the next Miss Spain. A close-up of the Cinderella shoesxx that
are being promoted in the shop leads to another close-up of a similar
pair of shoes being worn by Lola the night of her eighteenth birthday
(New Year's Eve 1999). In a mask ball, the 'charming' millonaire Luis
Casanova wearing the 'Quasimodo mask' seduces Lola by dancing with her
and assuring her that he could fall in love with 'the ugliest woman
in the world' because 'if her heart is beautiful, I wouldn't mind her
face'. The film constructs Lola's masked ball as a wonderful but impossible
dream in which spatial dychotomies (inside/outside) collapse. A circular
travelling shot of the couple dancing inside the ballroom dissolves
into a similar shot of them dancing outside the ballroom in a Manderley
scenarioxxi (figure 2). The sequence also constructs Lola's encounter
with Casanova as one of atemporal fusion: while the off-screen clock
strikes twelve, another circular shot encloses Luis and Lola looking
at each other's eyes. Another series of dissolves expands Luis's action
of removing Lola's mask in order to kiss her, so that their wishes can
become true: as they kiss in a close-up, the camera pans vertically
up to the fireworks in the sky, a Hollywood convention to represent
'the ecstasy of passion' (see, for instance, To Catch a Thief [Alfred
However, after twelve o'clock, Lola's wonderful dream to be truly loved
by 'the golden bachelor, heir of one of the biggest fortunes in the
country, a successful business man, a sportsman, and a bonviveur' (as
he is defined later in the film by Dr Werner) is constructed as impossible/'prohibited'
by the film's enunciation (Metz, 1977: 87). Because Lola stays at 'the
enchanted ball' after midnight, Prince Charming throws up and leaves.
However, the disgust associated to Lola's third and fourth flashbacks
(the scenario of Cinderella's rape ends with a close-up of Lola's 'fake'
mirror on the floor, the scenario of Cinderella's enchanted ball ends
with a close-up of the two masks on the floor: the vomit between them)
returns in the present of the narrative: after getting ready to kill
the next Miss Spain, Lola coldly subjects another male lover to her
Quasimodo mask, despising him when he doubts about his virility (figure
3). 4. In order to work through Lola's 'impossible and ever-lasting
dream' of being truly loved by Casanova, the third narrative segment
of the film displays a series of scenarios constructed according to
'reality principles' relevant to both the Lieutenant Arribas (Lola's
'pursuer') and Dr Werner, (Lola's 'creator'). In contrast to the collapse
of spatial difference between 'outside' and 'inside' that occurs in
the masked ball dance featuring Cinderella and Quasimodo, this third
narrative segment introduces a clear-cut construction of spatial dychotomies
(exterior/interior). A long shot that shows 'the exterior' of the Federal
cyber-library, where the Lieutenant goes to discover more about Lola,
is followed by a long shot of 'the circular' library interior (figure
4). After a fade out to black, the next sequence commences with a repetition
of the spatial distinction between 'exterior' (long shot of the exterior
of Dr Werner's clinic) and 'interior' (long shot of Dr Werner in his
This formal structure (exterior-interior/fade out to black/exterior-interior)
establishes a connection between Lieutenant Arribas and Dr Werner. Such
a link, moreover, is also represented at the level of the narrative.
On the one hand, inside the library - the locus of the scopic-epistemological
drive -xxii the lieutenant watches a sentimental television programme
about 'The beautiful Otero: A fairy tale' delivered in voice-over by
Dr Werner. On the other hand, inside his private clinic - the locus
of the death drive - Dr Werner is threatened by 'his beautiful doll',
gun in hand, who steals 'the beauty injections' from him. It can be
noted, then, that the two male characters are linked not only through
their view of Lola but also through the view between them: Arribas becomes
increasingly obsessed with the female killer's video-camera/TV image
because of Dr Werner's tele/vision story of Lola as a revengeful black
widow. In Dr Werner's story, at the funeral of Luis Casanova and his
wife (a recent Miss Spain) who have been killed in a car accident while
on honeymoon in Monaco, Lola announces to the press that she 'will never
forget what, that bitch!, has done to me'.
The formal structure 'exterior-interior/fade out to black/exterior-interior'
also establishes a radical difference between Lieutenant Arribas and
Dr Werner. Contrary to Dr Werner's illegal 'morphogenetic experiments'
with patients - he was expelled from the University after his creation
of Lola and continues to protect 'his beautiful criminal doll' - the
Lieutenant remains on the side of the (judicial) law. Firstly, he arrives
at the clinic just on time both to arrest Dr Werner (as an accomplice
in Lola's murders) and to rescue the scientist from Lola's gun. Secondly,
he misses Lola who runs away from him disguised as a nurse with dark
The woman who runs away in disguise exacerbates the erotic-lethal tension
between the members of 'the noir couple' and decreases the probability
that they can overcome their complicated relationship with the (symbolic)
Law. Soon after she is gone, the Lieutenant is able to send back to
Lola "the true significance" of her message - I am deceiving
you - (Zizek, 1991: 57) by hardening his pursuit of her. In fact, while
a Bullitt - of Steve McQueen fame - type music is heard on the soundtrack,
the Lieutenant, together with his police crew, literally drives to Lola's
apartment. As he goes up stairs and walks through a series of long and
winding corridors (this visual-narrative motif links this sequence with
the second sequence of the film: when Lola stabs 'her beautiful mother'
on her bed), we hear a heart beating drum, getting louder as the Lieutenant
'forces' his way into Lola's place,xxiii the cause of his anxiety.xxiv
As a deeper and slower sound encroaches on the soundtrack, Arribas moves
into Lola's hall and looks around the empty place.
Lola's absence from 'her place' motivates both the Lieutenant's judicial
order to 'search and arrest Lola Otero' and a series of suspense travellings
shots that follow Arribas as he scrutinizes Lola's things (her lighted
candles, her veils, a collection of burned Barbie dolls, a photograph
of Mother Theresa, photographs of herself in women's magazines, and
a snap of her as a child - the face deleted - with her blind 'mother').
Meanwhile, the soundtrack changes tone to introduce a sharper music
(double bass and cellos, with brief intrusions of Legend [Ridley Scott,
1985] 'romantic violins') that indicates that the Lieutenant has fallen
in love with the female killer.xxv
As in Preminger's Laura, the Lieutenant's excessive (loving) trajectory
regarding the investigation of the crime/the woman provokes 'an experience
of death' (Zizek, 1989: 68). While Lola kills the double of the Other
Woman who 'stole' Luis Casanova from her (Lola disguises herself as
one of the organizers of the forthcoming Miss Spain context, picks 'Miss
Cantabria' up at the airport, kills her, and buries her in a military
area), the Lieutenant edits a loop of close-ups of Lola Otero (from
Dr Werner's TV programme), in which she addresses him using the words
she used to say to the now dead Casanova: 'I love you. I'll never forget
you. You are the man of my life'. The series of frontal-mirror shot/reverse-shots
between the male character's narcissistic/dead look and the female character's
all-loving/vertiginous image drives the Lieutenant/spectator to fall
into a 'visual espiral' and into a brief subjective wide-angled 'nightmare
sequence'. In this sequence (located in a place similar to Ms. Lidia's
bedroom), a provocative Lola sitting on a table, wearing a white, light,
evening dress, and her eighteenth birthday mask, repeats the desired
sentence, 'I love you. You are the man of my life'. Shots of her are
rapidly cross-cut with shots of Dr Werner and Sergeant Pelayo, the Lieutenant's
Watsonian companion,xxvi also repeating Lola's phrases to the Lieutenant.xxvii
The nightmare ends with a wide-angled medium close-up shot of Lola laughing
hysterically while a candle is burning in the background (figure 5).
This wide-angled nightmare sequence can be seen as the final visual
scenario 'placed in the service of a defence against the [scopic-epistemological]
drive' (Copjec, 1993: 192). After the artificial loop of close-ups of
Lola looking at Arribas (as the dead Casanova) and telling him that
she loves him and that he is the man of her life, the Other's difference
returns in an uncanny way. The emergence of 'a non-symbolized fantasmatic
surplus' (Zizek, 1993: 220) in reality (Lola's laugh soundbridges the
nightmare and 'reality') announces that the Lieutenant is close to 'the
dark chamber where the death drive ends' (Turim, 1989: 180). That is
to say that he is close to 'symbolic castration'. In fact when the Lieutenant
abruptly wakes from 'his nightmare' he loses his fake eye, which falls
on the original polaroids of 'the scene of the motherly-sexual crime',
including a close-up of Lola disguised as Mother Theresa and another
with the sentence "new year, new life" written in blood on
the wall. A medium close-up of the Lieutenant covering his one-eyed
face with his hands, fades out to black via a cross-shaped fade. 5.
The camera fades in to a cross-shaped close-up of Lola disguised as
'the dead Miss Cantabria', as she enters the all-white, hyper-futuristic
building where the Miss Spain contest is to be held. This fantasy space
'gives body' to a certain limit that "changes the impossible into
the prohibited" (Zizek, 1993: 216). It materializes 'the encounter
with the Law'. Inside the 'police-room' in this building, the Lieutenant's
excessive relationship with the female character is substituted by a
more tamely relationship. Unlike his team of policemen, who look at
women like a voracious spaceship crew, Arribas is portrayed not only
as reluctant to be seduced by appearances (he refuses to look at the
female models' photographs) but also as 'the weak embodyment of the
Law' of desire: he 'prohibits' his policemen scopic jouissance. 'Have
you all become stupid?, Have you lost your judgement? [he coughs]. This
is not a game [he coughs again]. I remind you that you are on duty and
that we are in a murder case. So I don't want anymore nonsense'. The
lieutenant's tame position regarding the female character is further
related to the Law in the next sequence. A long shot of the sepulcral
exterior of the Federal Prison is followed by a scene inside the prison
in which the Lieutenant interrogates Dr Werner about Lola's heart: 'She
is not bad, Lieutenant', says the scientist, 'She has had bad luck,
that's all. Nobody has ever truly loved her. Nobody. Do you know what
it must feel like?'.
The fantasy scenario of violent confrontation between the female psycho-killer
and 'the weak embodiment of the Law' to be held at the Miss Spain building
is initiated by a series of cross-cut medium close-ups of Lola and the
Lieutenant loading their equal weapons. In similar fashion to 1990s
multinational noir thrillers involving 'female avengers', the confrontation
between the woman and the Law is explicitly related to 1970s feminism
(Read, 2000: pp. 3-13). On the one hand, the furious, cross-eyed, 1970s
feminist leader that is to remain outside the building, is mistaken
for Lola when she attempts to illegally enter the building disguised
as a nun with the intention of stabbing any 'top model'/'bitch' with
a knife, resembling Lola in the Lieutenant's nightmare (figure 6). On
the other hand, Lola is mistaken for the 1970s feminist leader, as she
is defined as 'an intellectual doll' by one of the male members of the
jury.xxviii By relating Lola's murder of her main rival for the Miss
Spain crown - the competitive, clever, and galactic/femenine 'Miss Barcelona/Miss
Photogenic' - to the feminist leader, the film's enunciation unmasks
the 1970s feminist fantasy of solidarity between women (see Read, 2000:
194). By locating Lola's murder of Dr Werner in the man's toilet (after
helping him pee, she strangles him), the film's enunciation unmasks
the 1970s masculine fantasy of women's excessive hostility against women
(Dr Werner's televised fairy-tale/revenge story of Lola). Additionally,
the film's enunciation connotes Lola's sadistic killing of her science-fiction
creator/lustful 'father' (she kills him after a scene in which he looks
at her with desire and 'recognizes her' because of the crucifix given
to her by her blind 'mother') as both the dead-end of the fashion model's
vengeful feminist trajectory (she kills a man) and the beginning of
her 'monstruous feminine destiny'. 6. The previously mentioned scene
in which Lola kills 'her creator' in the men's toilet ends with the
image of La Pietá (figure 7) and gives way to a television reality-show
of Lola's orgasmic mutation from top-model to female monster.xxix 'I'm
ugly!', she tells the Lieutenant, 'I have always been ugly! Don't you
see it?'. Then she shoots at a huge TV screen-mirror, while watched
by a large group of diegetic spectators gathered in Madrid's central
square La Plaza de España (the Square of Spain). At this science-fictional
point where the film mobilizes the visible (Kuhn, 1990: 6) - the televised
spectacle of the female protagonist's Real monstrous body -, the film
also mobilizes the origin of meaning. By depicting a visible monstrous
Lola choosing not to become 'the uncanny embodiment' of non-sensical
jouissance (the embodiment of that which should have remained hidden:
the death drive),xxx the film's enunciation celebrates the ideology
of individual freedom against the ideology of individual fate: Lola
is portrayed choosing to substitute 'the impossible object of the drives'
(the top model's TV image and the Miss Spain crown with Ms. Lidia's
heart-shaped jewel stamped in its centre: Lola liberates her hostess,
'Miss Las Palmas') for 'the object of a symbolic prohibition': her active
machine gun with which she injures Arribas in one leg.
The female character's new position of desire, mediated by the embodiment
of the Law - both by removing his 'mask' (his hairpiece, his fake eye,
and his false teeth) and in his recognition of Lola ('I know how you
feel, Lola'), Arribas approaches 'the female monster' -, triggers 'the
birth of female subjectivity'. Out of love for a truthful Quasimodo
(figure 8) "the ugliest woman in the world" lays down her
'possible' weapon (Zizek, 1993: 216) and in a miraculous transformation
lets the hopeless but brave, and therefore anti-Lacanian,xxxi male Other
to hug her in a wonderful/circular but tamed/mediated TV embrace (figure
By 'giving body' to a limit (the vertiginous embrace between Lola and
Casanova in the fourth flashback), this fairy-tale, happy ending TV-style
scenario ('the man' rescues 'the woman' from her own fate [death], after
having been rescued by her from his own fate) announces the narrative
presence of the symbolic Law of desire. After a fade out to black, a
series of shots of different newspaper headlines (the spectator is informed
of the 250 year jail sentence handed down to 'the beautiful Lola Otero')
dissolve into a scene in which Arribas (with an eye patch and the help
of a stick) enters the Police building to lay down his Lieutenant's
'narcissistic identity' card and gun.
A long shot of Arribas leaving 'the interior' of the Police building
dissolves into a long shot of 'the exterior' of the Federal Prison (New
Year's Eve, 2011) and, while an 'exotic'/femenine bolero 'Lamento Gitano'
is heard on the soundtrack,xxxii Arribas approaches Lola's cell. The
cell is constructed as the space of desire: time is measured ('visiting
time'), Lola's montrous image is masked by a broken mirror, there is
a couple united on the basis of their common lack (Zizek, 1989: 171-2).
A series of shot/reverse shots symbolically differentiate between 'the
crippled, one-eyed man' and 'the monster woman'xxxiii while 'the man'
gives a ring to 'the woman' as a birth-night present. Lola switches
the radio on. In modern Spanish fashion, they eat the twelve grapes
together in time with the chimes of the clock heralding in the new year.xxxiv
The film ends with a close-up of Lola smiling with happiness while the
radio presenter's female voice can be heard saying: "We, the family
of channel 10, hope that your last year's wishes have come true and
that the year 2012 sees your wishes fulfilled and brings you love, a
lot of love, to you. And remember, today is the first day of the rest
of your life'. In the right foreground of this final personal, toward-the-future
ending shot, there is an opened bottle of champagne.
i This film was produced-distributed by an 'independent company' (Aurum
Producciones, SA) with the participation of Canal Plus (España)
ii Such as the actor Héctor Alterio, the music composer Juan
Bardem, the editor Iván Aledo, or the Art director Alain Bainée.
iii Nationalist readings of Spanish films are those readings that look
for 'local particularities' or 'local traditions' in order to make them
represent a "specifically Spanish cinematic style" (Roberts,
1999: 20). In these readings (1) the International dimension of cinema
is played down (in terms of both film-making and film-viewing), (2)
the transnational idea that the particularities of a film express 'the
essence' or the 'self-enclosed traditions' of 'the Nation' the film
was produced in, is taken as self-evident, and (3) the notion of 'nation',
introduced by the author, is taken as an objective element of the film
(see, Eco, 1968: 459).
Stephen Roberts writes: "Calle Mayor [Juan Antonio Bardem, 1956],
while acknowledging its debt to neorealism, is actually rooted in different
traditions and moving in a different direction: a direction which, this
article claims, is essentially Spanish in nature.
A few reviewers of the time realized this and emphasized the specifically
Spanish nature of the film, although most of these were film critics
in the Spanish press who felt that they had a patriotic duty [...]"
iv La mujer más fea del mundo has been shown in various international
film festivals. It was nominated for 'best film' in The Catalonian International
Film Festival (Sitges, Spain), won the Meliés d'Argent at Fantasporto
(Oporto, Portugal, 2000) and the Grand Prix Award at PIFAN (2000).
v For instance, The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks, 1944), Laura (Otto Preminger,
1944), Gilda (Charles Vidor, 1946), or Dark Passage (Delmer Daves, 1947).
vi Such as The Last Seduction (John Dahl, 1993) - film with a 'progressive
feminist' ending scenario: "the heroine coolly getting away with
stealing millions of dollars" (Kaplan, 1998: 12; see also Read,
2000: 207) -, Batman Returns (Tim Burton, 1992) - film with a 'postmodern
feminist' ending scenario: the female protagonist has "renegotiated"
its 'feminine identity' with its 'feminist identity' (Read, 2000: 198-9)
-, or Bound (The Wachowski Brothers, 1996) - film with a 'postmodern'
happy ending scenario of homosexual love based on a certain "sameness"
that makes lesbians "better partners in crime" (Straayer,
vii Carolina Otero, la Bella Otero (The Beautiful Otero), was born in
Pontevedra in 1868 and died in Niza in 1965. After being brutally raped
the 6th of July of 1879 in her village, Caldas de Reyes, she went first
to France and then to New York (1890) where she initiated her artistic
career as a music hall dancer to become one of the most desired women
in Europe (1891) during the Belle Époque (1889-1914). She made
herself up as a legendary 'passionate Spanish woman' (her real name
was Agustina) and was famous for wasting her lovers' money playing at
the roulette. Among her lovers were the Princes of Wales, Leopold of
Belgium, Nicolás II, Alberto of Mónaco, Alfonso XIII,
or Maurice Chevalier. When she was 46, having loved no one, la Bella
Otero disappeared not to be seen ageing (Posadas, 2001).
viii Thierry Kuntzel notes that "fade outs are conspicuous signs
of rupture, articulation, enunciation; culminative with respect to the
sequence as a whole" (1980: 11).
ix El pasodoble is a 20th century recreation of Spanish popular dance
music that is associated not only to tauromachy but also to modern Spanish
x In the credits this character is described as 'viejo vicioso'. This
role is played by the actor Luis Ciges, in a 'special collaboration'.
xi We see a series of shots of 'the Mother' holding the knife up before
directing it down towards Ms. Lidia's body (off-screen) as well as a
series of shots of the blood splashing on the wallpaper and on a crucifix
hanging on the wall.
xii I would like to thank Laura Antón for her technological help
with the images.
xiii See, for instance, Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941), Experiment
Perilous (Jacques Tourneaur, 1944), Laura, The Big Sleep, or Dead Reckoning
(John Cromwell, 1947).
xiv This is her first role in a film.
xv A narcissistic other is not necessarily from the same sex as the
subject (Freud, 1914).
xvi Lola asks to her 'fake' hand-mirror: "little mirror, little
mirror, who is the most beautiful girl in the world?"; and she
answers to herself: "You Lola, you are the most beautiful woman
xvii I would like to thank both my mother, Amelia, and her friend, Candelas,
for this piece of information.
xviii 1940s Hollywood films included in this category are Rebecca (Alfred
Hitchcock, 1940), Suspicion (Alfred Hitchcock, 1941), Gaslight (George
Cukor, 1944), When Strangers Marry/Betrayed (William Castle, 1944),
Dragonwyck (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1946), Undercurrent (Vicente Minnelli,
1946), The Two Mrs. Carrolls (Peter Godfrey, 1947), Secret Beyond the
Door (Fritz Lang, 1948), or Caught (Max Ophuls, 1949). Gothic romance
films are focalized through a female character, display the psychical-social
conflict between the erotic and death drives in relation to the other
(sex), and are addressed to female audiences (see Cowie, 1993).
xix For a feminist analysis of the female Oedipal scenario in Rebecca,
see Modleski (1988).
xx See Bruno Bettelheim's analysis of the female's Oedipal scenario
in the Cinderella story (Bettelheim, 1976).
xxi Manderley is the name of the Gothic mansion in Rebecca.
xxii As has been noted by Slavoj Zizek, "the drive's ultimate aim
is symply to reproduce itself as drive, to return to its circular path,
to continue its path to and from the goal. The real source of enjoyment
is the repetitive movement of this closed circuit" (Zizek, 1991:
xxiii In contemporary science fiction, sound effects such as loud pulsating
sounds are often used emphatically "to heighten excitement and
create a physical impact on the body of the viewer" (King and Krzywinska,
xxiv Anxiety is an 'internal' sign that warns the subject that the fulfilment
of the drives is too close (Freud, 1919-1920 : 281-2).
xxv I would like to express my gratitude to both Miguel Angel Martín
and Marcos Monge for their narrative reading suggestions and musical
descriptions of this sequence.
xxvi Throughout the film this male character embodies tragic-comic 'contemporary
gender trouble'. In a fancy-dress party, celebrated the evening Ms.
Lidia was murdered, the heterosexual Pelayo falls in love with 'a woman'
disguised as a 'female tamer of lions' that turns out to be a travenstite.
xxvii For an analysis of the relationship between the classic detective
and his companion in terms of transference, see Slavoj Zizek (1991:
58). For an analysis of the homoerotic relationships between characters
in film noir, see Richard Dyer's work (1978).
xxviii As a finalist of the Miss Spain contest, when she is asked about
her ideal of beauty, Lola answers: "I think that what really counts
is the beauty inside oneself. That is why my ideal of beauty is the
Mother Theresa of Calcutta. She was really beautiful because her beauty
was spiritual. I think that all women in the world should resemble her".
xxix Here science fictional make-up special effects (by David Marti
and Montse Ribé) fulfill the function of 'representing the unrepresentable'
(see, King and Krzywinska, 2000: 64).
xxx I am indebted to Vicente Mira for his lecture on Freud's "The
Uncanny" (11th of June, 2003, Colegio de Psicoanálisis,
xxxi "The 'Lacanian' man is fundamentally a coward. And, of course,
it is the case that when he goes to war is to run away from women, to
run away from the hole [...] in order to protect his little having"
(Jacques Alain Miller, quoted by Palao Errando, 1994: 87).
xxxii 'El bolero' is a type of popular music that deals with love matters.
The first bolero is considered to be Tristezas by José 'Pepe'
Sánchez, Cuba, 1886.
xxxiii "between the shot and the backshot the bar that separates
the man from the woman is marked out, defining at the same time, in
the same axis, at the point of convergence of the two diagonal looks,
the place of the third one" (González Requena, 1993: 249).
xxxiv The origin of this custom is properly modern. It began in 1909
as a marketing campaign designed by harvesters to sell their grapes
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