Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The Ugliest Woman in the World

Director: Miguel Bardem
Writer: Nacho Faerna
Producer: Francisco Ramos
Cast: Roberto Álvarez, Javivi, Elia Galera
Country: Spain
Year of release: 1999
Reviewed from: UK DVD (Nucleus Films)

I saw La Mujer Más Fea del Mundo at Fantasporto in 2000 (where it won the Silver Mélies) but it has taken five years or so to make it to Britain as one of the first releases from Marc Morris and Jake West’s Nucleus Films label.

On New Year’s Eve 2010, police detective Teniente Arribas (Roberto Álvarez: Nos Miran, Between Your Legs) sits alone in his Madrid apartment watching a movie about spaceships (a clever bit of misdirection which briefly fools us into thinking that this sci-fi movie is going to be something else entirely). Shortly after midnight he is called to the scene of a particularly gruesome murder in an old people’s home, where he meets up with Sergeant Pelayo (‘Javivi’ - aka Javier Gil Valle: Los Lobos de Washington).

What could become a simple Euro-cop movie set in the near future becomes more involved when we (reasonably swiftly) discover that the prime suspect is the mysterious and glamorous Lola Otero (Elia Galera, later a presenter on the Spanish version of Pop Stars). A few years earlier this statuesque beauty had appeared from nowhere and become a regular feature on magazine covers as she dated and became engaged to Spain’s most eligible bachelor, Luis Casanova (Alberto San Juan also in Between Your Legs and Los Lobos de Washington plus comedy horror flick Cosa de Brujas) - until he was discovered to be having an affair with that year’s Miss Spain.

After the Casanova wedding, Lola disappeared from society and the happy couple were discovered murdered.

Through flashbacks to Lola’s childhood we discover her dark secret: she was born hideously, hideously ugly - bad enough to make people vomit when they saw her. Teased mercilessly by her schoolfriends who nicknamed her ‘the Malaysian foetus’(!), but befriended by a blind nun, she became understandably embittered. But help was at hand in the shape of Dr Werner (Héctor Alterio: Scarab, Paul Verhoeven’s Flesh and Blood) whose revolutionary and controversial treatment transformed the ugly girl into the beauty who graced the society pages. However, Lola requires regular injections of Werner’s genetics-altering drug to remain as she is.

As Arribas and Pelayo investigate the case further they discover that the latest murder is one in a series, some previously recorded as fatal accidents, and that all the victims are former Miss Spains. The film climaxes at that year’s pageant with the cops trying to figure out which of the girls is the killer in disguise.

A very funny near-future black comedy, The Ugliest Woman in the World suffered slightly from unfair comparison by being released around the same time as the Sandra Bullock starrer Miss Congeniality which has a similar plot to this film’s final act (without the SF elements). Arribas and Pelayo make an appealing double act and the latter supplies a subplot; when we first meet him he has come from a fancy dress party where he was ‘Clark Gable’ and met a very lovely lady lion tamer who subsequently turns out to have a secret.

The actual SF elements of the movie are slim but essential to the plot. Young Lola’s face is always kept hidden and it is only right at the end that we get to see her in all her hideous glory. Though this scene is a triumph of prosthetics and bladder effects, augmented by a little CGI, the finished result can never live up to the ugliness that we have been promised because nothing could.

Thoroughly enjoyable, wickedly comic and unashamedly Spanish, Ugliest Woman is a smashing movie which, like so many other recent European genre movies, has been unfairly ignored internationally. It’s great to see it finally made available in the UK, nicely packaged with some great extras as one would expect from Nucleus.

The cast also includes Saturnino Garcia (Acción Mutante, Rojo Sangre), Ramón Barea (Acción Mutante, La Madre Muerte), Alicia Agut (Almodovar’s The Flower of My Secret) and Luis Ciges (The Dracula Saga, Vengeance of the Zombies, Horror Rises from the Tomb, House of Psychotic Women, The Vampires’ Night Orgy, Night of the the Seagulls, Island of the Damned, Human Beasts - blimey!). Quite a number of the actors were also in Alex de la Iglesia’s La Communidad and/or The Day of the Beast. The uncredited actor seen briefly on TV as the President of Spain is Santiago Segura (Blade II, Beyond Re-Animator, Hellboy and, erm, Killer Barbys). Reyes Abades is one of the credited special effects men; his extraordinary CV includes Abre los Ojos, Tesis, The Devil’s Backbone, Tie Me Up! Time Me Down!, The House of Bernardo Alba, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Rowing in the Wind and Ken Loach’s Land and Freedom.

MJS rating: B+

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