Pedro Almodóvar's 1991 romp High Heels (Tacones Lejanos) takes in two of his pet obsessions, that of femininity and the relationships between women. Rebeca, a young newsreader, is on edge as her mother, Becky del Páramo, a famous actress and singer, comes to visit for the first time in years. Tension and awkwardness occur, especially as Rebeca has married Manuel, her mother's old lover, and is also enjoying a close friendship with Letal, a transvestite who performs in a stage show impersonating Becky.
Unfortunately, what seems to start as a dizzying, non-traditional character piece, with elliptical storytelling, enlightening (if oblique) flashbacks and plenty of well-managed conflict, soon gets bogged down in a heavy-handed murder-mystery plot - involving long sequences of pure exposition and twists-a-dozen. This development stifles both the characters and the performances (mostly pleasant, especially Victoria Abril as Rebeca and Miguel Bosé as Letal), as the centre of gravity shifts towards enacting a farcical melodrama-meets-crime narrative.
It is not all bad - Almodóvar's sense of bright, colourful style is always a joy to watch, and certain moments, like an on-air confession or a prison yard dance sequence, crackle with energy and humour - but there is a sense of misconception about the whole thing. This is hammered home by the tantalising, yet redundant recurring title motif - high heeled shoes - which suggests, amongst other things, the performativity of gender, and the identity, composure and rivalry of womanhood created by clothing. Worse is a moment in the film where - bluntly, unsubtly - Rebeca screams, at length, about the Ingmar Bergman's landmark mother-daughter examination Autumn Sonata. It is a severe mis-step, revealing how that film - strong in its unwavering, insightful focus on its characters - is diametrically opposed to High Heels, which is tangled up in its own story.