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Golden Balls
cast: Javier Bardem, Maria de Medeiros, Maribel Verdú, Elisa Tovati, and Benicio Del Toro

director: Bigas Luna

88 minutes (18) 1993
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Tartan DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
Available as part of Tartan's Bigas Luna collection, Golden Balls (aka: Huevos de oro) is a critique of 1980s' excess and Latin machismo. Overtly sexual, as with Luna's other films, Golden Balls starts well but fades in the third act as the protagonist's inevitable downfall comes and the heavy-handedness of the script becomes clear.

The film begins as two recently released soldiers lay out their plans for the future. One asks no more out of life while the other Benito (Javier Bardem) plans to turn his knowledge of the construction trade into an empire through the building of a huge skyscraper. However, lacking in contacts and the basic idea of how to run a business, Benito quickly finds himself falling back on his ability to seduce women as he pimps out his girlfriend before marrying the wife of a rich banker while keeping his girlfriend going on the side. Initially, Benito's raw machismo and tendency to spastically clutch his balls seem to work and the tower starts to rise but soon his wife finds out about his dalliances and the whole edifice comes tumbling down as Benito's machismo leaves him impotently looking on while a young Benicio del Toro screws his girlfriend in front of him.

Let's be straightforward here. The skyscraper is not just a symbol of Benito's power and masculinity; it literally is his cock. The more powerful he becomes, the bigger the tower gets and when the tower goes flaccid, so does Benito. This is obvious as the first time the tower is mentioned, Benito says it will be "like a cock." The problem with this film is that beyond this idea, Luna has nothing much to say. There's an interesting Taming Of The Shrew moment when Benito's wife Marta falls for his mistress, only to kick him out when he tries to replace the mistress with someone that looks just like her, and there's a fine line in references to that other icon of Latin machismo Scarface's Tony Montana as a woman cries out "Miami!" as she orgasms, and Benito's final humiliation comes at the hands of "Bob, the friend from Miami." There's even some nice stuff about Benito's dual nature, as he seems both oddly sentimental in keeping old mistresses around while also shrugging others off when they cease to be useful. Unfortunately, Luna never devotes any time or attention to any of these secondary ideas so none of them come completely to fruition as Luna returns again and again to the penis/ tower/ power symbolism.

The thinness of the content begins to be felt in the third act when Benito's downward spiral begins. Stripped of his tower, the character loses all direction and essentially just hangs around until the final credits roll. This is unfortunate as expanding upon the Taming Of The Shrew elements might well have allowed Luna to stick the blade in further by pointing out that, despite the posing and preening, it is the woman that wears the trousers in Benito's house and that in order to have his vast penis substitute built, the cost was Benito's real masculinity and sense of self-determination. Similarly, exploring Benito's latent sentimentality might have also provided the character an unexpected avenue for redemption. Unfortunately, neither of these avenues is explored, and the result is a film that feels underwritten and predictable and is nowhere near as scathing as other critiques of the 1980s' swaggering business cock culture.

The film's performances are by and large good. Bardem is superb as he flicks from peacock to coward but the same cannot be said of the female roles. Indeed, despite this film being critical of Spanish machismo, it is difficult to not see in Luna's underwritten female parts the same phallocentrism that blighted previous works such as The Ages Of Lulu, for just as in that film, Benito's women seem to have no existence outside of their relationship with him. To me this suggests that while Luna might well be aware of the problems with machismo, it is nonetheless a trait he struggles to rid himself of.

Though not a bad film by any means, Golden Balls is a frustrating watch as it never quite reaches the levels of social commentary and satire that it aims for. There are a few laughs and a few nice ideas along the way but ultimately, this is thin stuff.

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