The Perfect Husband (1992)
The Perfect Husband (1992)
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El Marido Perfecto (The Perfect Husband) directed by Beda Docampo Feijóo written by Beda Docampo Feijóo and Juan Bautista Stagnaro starring Tim Roth, Ana Belén, Peter Firth, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, Jorge Marrale At the end of the 19th century a man named Franz (Firth) returns to his old friend Milan’s (Roth) life and the pair quickly return to their placid friendship. After seven years apart, he bears news that his wife Nathasha (Belén) has died recently leaving him somewhat broken. The film chronicles their reunion and the many complications that were initiated back when they were friends. Milan is an exceedingly cocky bastard who is quite popular in the circles in which he runs. He’s a talented pianist and opera singer and routinely entertains around the city. He’s also something of a cad and women seem genuinely drawn to him. In many ways he’s the precise opposite of Franz who seems unsure of himself and unsteady at every turn. Milan professes to have no idea why Franz has returned but in actuality he is dead certain. Their reunion proves to be a game and the joy is seeing how far each man can involve themselves in the giddy proceedings. The film spends half of its time in flashback establishing both the relationship between Milan and Natasha as well as Franz’s utter oblivion to it. Milan aggressively pursues Natasha from the outset. He paws and prods her, pushes her buttons and otherwise gets her all riled up. His technique manages to work and all inhibitions fall by the wayside. Their lovemaking is a bit rough which adds a tangy edge to the film because it really is about an untoward passion that cannot be restrained by any moral code. It’s supposed to have an animalistic quality to it because Milan represents a bawdy, contemptuous spirit who doesn’t live like most people. He’s daring, somewhat reckless, and utterly carefree. He’s a musician who knows his gift is remarkable and this fact affects his every movement. He’s languid, slow to temper, and seems to take life simply as it comes to him without getting overwrought for no good reason. He sees what he wants and he gets it because that’s just the type of chap he is. He doesn’t court someone or try to learn their favorite perfume. No, he’s up front because when he’s hungry he wants to dine on something rare and a bit unusual. Throughout the film there is the issue of duels. Milan claims to have been in 29 of them and indeed as the film opens he is participating in another one. After the other man, a general, misses, Milan doesn’t take the opportunity to fatally wound him and instead shoots him in the leg. This adds a sense of honor to the film and provides a backdrop upon which the rest of the story can be ably displayed. If nothing else Milan is an honorable man who just happens to take his pleasures where he can find them even if the fruit he seeks is growing on another man’s vine. It doesn’t take much effort for him to succeed so he eventually tires and goes away just as Natasha has become pregnant. The tension in this film is quite profoundly realized. The scenes between Milan and Franz are dutifully claustrophobic and one simply wants to have an opportunity to leave the room. The use of dramatic irony is effective as is the natural pacing which allows things to unfold in accordance with their own momentum. Not much in terms of action actually happens in this film as most of it pursues the psychological dance taking place between the two men. During the flashback we are made privy to the relationship between all three characters and it does strike one as rather foolish of Franz to allow his good friend so much access to his pretty wife. Honestly, no man should ever be so trusting to expect such intimacy to remain fully chaste. Human flesh is as it is and proximity often leads to entanglements that can never be undone. In this case it was but a matter of time. There is a scientific approach to the physical movements in this film. Every gesture, movement, or posture is precisely choreographed economically in an almost martial sense. The act of folding a letter becomes something of a military maneuver or a ballet. Every scene has an exactness which is ordered and exceedingly well constructed. There are no false gestures and everything reeks of aesthetic perfection that can never be properly maintained. Order is inevitably compromised and in this film the undoing is methodical and painstaking. The film is basically a slow, agonizing death march toward an inevitable conclusion. Along the way there is terrible heartache as Milan discovers something that he has long suspected to be true. Still, the actual knowledge turns to misery as what he discovers is quickly taken from him after but a short while. This is the key bit of information that informs the penultimate act which is necessary for the overall arc of the film. The film doesn’t spend much time exploring this setback for Milan; it is established and used at the end to explain the specific outcome of an event within which he fully was prepared to lose out. The score by José Nieto is exquisitely rendered as it builds considerable tension through the use of strings and piano. Often times the strings are used much in the same way they are for horror films although in this case they are more subtle and buried further down in the mix. Still, they are quite effective and achieve just the correct amount of distemper from each scene. The music enhances the complexity of the relationship between these two men and doesn’t much allow the viewer to extract themselves from the agony held within. There is a scene where Franz takes Milan along to meet with a young woman named Klara (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón) who he is enamored with. It is immediately clear that she is smitten with Milan despite him having done nothing direct to attract her attention. This is an example of the terrible charisma which Milan possesses and just how much Franz lacks this vital attribute. It proves that Milan’s charm is irresistible and intoxicating to just about any woman he encounters. It’s the ease with which he presents himself and the undeniable force of character which every gesture, however slight, suggests. This is a film about the repercussions often realized by the application of animal appetites. Milan and Natasha carry out their design with supreme artistry that nevertheless contributes to the malaise of the man who is left outside the merrymaking and forced to brood once he becomes privy to the severity of the situation. His plight never becomes a matter of singular importance because he is played for the cuckold and this is a film about supreme confidence that has no place for the pet miseries of those who are incapable of performing. Milan is a bona fide man about town who seems not to acknowledge limits nor to spend anytime ruminating over the foul course of his actions. He’s an artist who expects a certain appeasement from everyone he comes in contact with. The sex scenes between Milan and Natasha are truly primal and offer a nice offset to the gentility demonstrated throughout the rest of the picture. Natasha is presented as a proper lady which means she carries herself with a certain decorum in public. The joy in the film emerges as she is slowly stripped of all pretenses and reduced to a panting, heaving creature almost too hungry for her own good. This is a genuine debauch that slowly builds up to the point of distress. Natasha is released from a specific code that demands a particular demonstration and she revels in her freedom from socially-sanctioned restraint. Milan all too willingly takes advantage of Natasha’s desire to be pummeled somewhat by a man who knows what he is doing. She has tired of the polite, schoolboyish approach her husband, being somewhat terrified of her body, takes during their essentially unsatisfactory lovemaking sessions. Milan offers pleasures heretofore unrealized and Natasha enjoys them without suffering pangs of guilt or other unnecessary malaises. The film presents an impossibly organized world in which everything has its place. People are expected to behave in accordance with specific rules that are duly enforced through measures of self-reproaching psychological tortures that leave individuals weighed down with tremendous guilt. This does not apply to Milan and Natasha because they have discovered a pathway straight to the source of all physical pleasure. They are divorced from society by the very fact that they refuse to acknowledge its restrictive rules and arbitrary edicts about what is decent and thereby acceptable. The performances in this film are all quite delectable. Tim Roth gives one of his finer turns as a seducer with no qualms regarding any outcome that his behavior might wrought. Milan is simply too blase to become afflicted by any actions he indulges in. When he tires of the game he simply absconds. He seems to know no fear regarding any outcome that might bring him physical harm. He simply accepts the possibility and propels himself forward without a semblance of worry about what vile thing might happen to him. He haughtily places his hand over a flame to test his own ability to block out pain. Franz is unable to do this which demonstrates a clear distinction between the two men. Ana Belén plays a tempestuous woman ravished by lust who simply disappears from the story once Milan has tired of her. It is not made evident whether or no she lived in shame after the fact but the tone of the film suggests that this is unlikely. Belén radiates a heat that is readily apparent from her first appearance in the film. Peter Firth carries himself with a quiet dignity that is nevertheless undermined throughout the film. He is a man who does everything expected of him only to be made something of a laughingstock. The film is none to sympathetic to Franz until the very end when he makes a decisive gesture that makes direct sense in terms of his honor and integrity. Overall, this is an intoxicating film that explores the vagaries of lust and the slow-burning entanglements of revenge. It is a character study of two men of distinctly different types who see the world through very different eyes. Milan is a man of the world who doesn’t shrink when faced with imminent danger. Franz is more reserved and less bold with his actions. Together they make an odd pair and it’s not evident just what they provide for one another. Perhaps Franz enjoys living vicariously through Milan due to his ability to effect so many people with his music. Still, it isn’t entirely clear just what Milan gets from the arrangement other than access to Franz’s wife. That may be all. It would explain why Milan asks Franz directly why he has come to visit him even though he is fully aware of Franz’s intentions and is merely awaiting the inevitable satisfaction.
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