Jamon, Jamon, ‘a tale of ham and passion’, with a script by Catalan writer Quim Monzón and shot by Bigas Luna in the Aragonese desert, begins with a shot of Javier Bardem’s local stud character Raul playing torero with a friend on a horned bike on a patch of Aragonese wasteland. In the next scene we see Raul modelling a new line of pants in a photo shoot in an underwear factory. Later on we learn he sells jamon for a living. And so begins a film so Spanish, it drinks Marie Brizard for breakfast.
Jose Luis (Jordi Molla), the son of the underwear magnate, is out in the acrid scrubland fooling about with a hunk of omelette on a toothpick and his girlfriend Silvia (Penelope Cruz). This is the Mar de Aragon, where lorries are perpetually parping through and the only recognizable feature of the landscape is a giant Osborne Sherry billboard in the shape of a bull. Under this brooding toro, Silvia, the daughter of a brothel owner, (the magnificent Anna Galiena), climbs out of the car and faints, before telling Jose she is pregnant.
Placing a beer can pull-ring on her finger, José proposes marriage and invites her to his rich family’s big paella event. She was already going to the event anyway, as she and her mother were doing the catering (tortillas and a giant paella). But this suggestion makes her extremely happy nonetheless. At the paella event, with Jose plucking up the courage to introduce Sylvia, Jose’s mother (Stefania Sandrelli) only ignores her, before calling her mother a whore.
Jose’s mother now begins plotting to get Silvia out of the way, convinced she’s after the family money. She approaches Raul’s ham shop (Los Conquistadores) offering him a Mercedes car to seduce Silvia. This Raul tries to achieve by a) freeing one of the pigs from the pen in her yard and then helping her to rescue it. And b) following her around in a Seat tugging along a giant jamon in a trailer. 'You’re a pig,’ she yells. ‘You’re a jamona,’ he replies.
Meanwhile the wholly less alpha, but equally macho (in attitude, at least), Jose Luis attempts to gain economic independence by convincing his father to endorse a line of dog’s underpants. He also relieves his growing sexual frustration at Silvia's frigidity by – what else? - paying a visit to her mother Carmen, who happily consents to a bizarre heavy petting scenario (while fanning a foul-mouthed parrot and repeating the word, ‘guaca!’)
In between there are scenes of midnight bullfighting in the nude, garlic is stuffed into a pig’s anus, men attack each other with ham legs and the billboard bull has his balls cut off by a Jose infuriated by Sylvia’s sexual incompliance. ‘Tantos cojones, tanta mierda!’ he cries.
According to the film critic Roger Ebert, the film ‘sees sex as a short cut to the ridiculous in human nature.’ Bigas Luna, like Almodóvar, Buñuel and other Spanish directors, was certainly a keen proponent of anarchic sexual carry-on, and uses sex and cultural motifs to explore gender roles and stereotypes in an unforgettably comic way.
Luna won the Silver Lion at Cannes for this film and would later direct Huevos de Oro (1993), La Teta y la Luna (1994) and Son de Mar (2001). He died in 2013, after a struggle with cancer.
In its obituary El Mundo remembered him as a ‘little like Dali, a little like berlanga, a little like Buñuel, as tender as he was boorish, playful with eroticism, gluttonous and mocking as a child….’
With his cheesy, sordid, sardonic image of the Iberian small-town nowhere, Luna, it might be argued out-Spanishes them all.