Alberto San Juan
Sci-fi Crime Comedy
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The Ugliest Woman in the World (1999)
4th Oct 05
In a futuristic Spain, someone is murdering beauty queens.
By 20 minutes into the running time of The Ugliest Woman in the World, it was plainly obvious that it would have to work very hard to go anywhere but steeply uphill right up until the end. If you’ve never heard of this wildly original and adventurous flick from 1999 Spain, then this is further proof of one of the best things about being in love with movies: you will never hear of, let alone see so many great films being made around the world. There are just too many. But you can certainly try, and this is an excellent place to continue your journey.
TUWITW tells the story of Lola Otero - monstrously ugly from birth. Her life is a nightmare. She is constantly and relentlessly bullied, humiliated and even raped (with her head and face covered) throughout her years at convent. Then, on her 18th birthday, she wears a mask and costume to a fancy dress Millennium Eve Ball, where she meets a dashing prince - Luis - with whom she dances all night. He tells her that he thinks beauty is only skin deep and that he could love the ugliest woman in the world, as long as she had a beautiful heart. She feels truly loved for the first time. However in the first few seconds of the year 2000, Lola unmasks, they kiss, Luis then sees her face and proceeds to barf. Happy 18th, Lo.
Lola then has pioneering surgery from a renegade surgeon - an experiment which transforms her from the ugliest woman into the most beautiful woman in el mundo. She becomes glamorous, famous, front-cover material and marries the rich and famous Luis Casanova, but when things start to go wrong she is tormented from within and gives in to her compulsion to take revenge on the woman Luis left her for by killing her, as well as other past winners of the Ms. Spain beauty pageant.
In charge of the murder investigations is Lieutenant Arribas (Roberto Álvarez), a quiet, lonely man who is respected by his colleagues. His role in the story is set in the year 2011. He appears, apart from the occasional coughing fit, to be in good health, with a clean cut, sharp appearance. A bit like a Spanish John Saxon, actually. But he has secrets. What no one else sees is a man who, when he gets home at night, becomes a bald, eyeless (well, one eye) and toothless figure of pity and isolation. Subjectively, probably the ugliest man in the world. As he uncovers the painful, sad truth about Lola, he becomes obsessed with her and begins to fall in love. Aw...
You want to see it already don’t you. That’s because films like this don’t come along every day. Thank God for these Spaniards for giving us something so fresh, new and original. It left me pretty gobsmacked, folks.
Lola’s story is told in flashback sequences which jump in and out of the present, well, futuristic day. Her pain is heartbreakingly portrayed as we witness her terrible life of constant suffering at the hands of the cruel, heartless children at the convent; her only saviours are the blind Sister at the convent, and of course Dr Werner, the man responsible for transforming her into (real life singer of Spanish ‘popular’ music and ultra-fit babe) Elia Galera.
Not only is the photography aesthetically slick without being overly so, but the production and fashion design also cut through enough just to make you actually notice it. Ltnt. Arribas’s lush apartment has a voice activated TV, and classical music is triggered when he comes in his front door at night. The film was made in 1999 and is set in 2011; it’s nice when filmmakers get this kind of stuff right.
The police in 2011 Madrid are not quite what you will expect either. Forget about some ultra-cool future cop idol, because Arrabas‚ colleagues are not only pretty sloppy to look at, but quite dysfunctional and hapless to boot. Sargento Pelayo’s sidekick character is the work of genius – he’s a stuttering ladies man who’s love interest isn’t all they appear to be, and this subplot goes down a characteristically quirky route which will no doubt win over even the most hardened of audiences. He also fancies himself as a bit of a Clarke Gable. Nice ‘tache, Pelayo.
Although not a horror film, this should appeal to fans of the genre. Hell, it should appeal to most fans of quality film out there - the good, the bad and the ugly. The first killing is pretty nasty stuff and the rest of the film has a refined horror / sci-fi, even surreal tone about it that makes it no easier to categorise, because over and above all else, it’s a comedy. Or is it? Offbeat British TV comedy series League of Gentlemen fans will no doubt warm to it’s darkly comic kookiness, even more so when they discover that some parts of the soundtrack score sounds almost identical to the music in L.O.G.
So, proof then that Almodovar isn’t the only Spanish director making films audiences across the water should enjoy. This one has got charm, wit, and stands successful as an unforgettably innovative experiment in genre fusing. There’s something for everyone here, with a nice moral message to boot. It really is one of a kind.
If you do manage to see it and for some bizarre reason you don’t enjoy it, then at least give it a chance and see it through until the superb ending, when Lola appears in her natural state. Wow – she’s more ugly than you could possibly imagine. Not much wonder Luis puked his ring when he laid eyes on her. Poor Lola.