La ley del deseo (Pedro Almodóvar, 1987)

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La ley del deseo, directed by Pedro Almodóvar (a. k. a. Law of desire, 1987).

Score: The edgy and the melodramatic.

Almodóvar is one of the most iconic Spanish filmmakers ever, but for some reason, I had never watched any of his films. I did some asking around and decided to start with this one, as they told me it was one of the “authentic” and “good” ones. And most of what I had heard about Almodóvar my whole life started to make sense.

La ley del deseo tells the story of Pablo Quintero (Eusebio Poncela), a queer and frivolous filmmaker. His relationship with Juan (Miguel Molina) is not running smoothly, so Juan decides to leave town for a while and think. Pablo finishes writing a theater play for his sister Tina (Carmen Maura), who is trying to make it big as an actress. Then Antonio (Antonio Banderas) appears in Pablo’s life. Antonio is passionate and obsessive, which Pablo finds amusing, but Antonio is certainly one edgy character…

Almodóvar’s filmmaking is known for being colourful, queer, excessive and melodramatic, and this is certainly Exhibit A. The pacing is quite well-achieved, never fully stalling, and the genre mixture is refreshing. A bit too dramatic and/or soap operatic for my taste but that’s not a bad thing. There is some shy usage of visual symbolism which I’m guessing he further developed as he became more experienced as a director. It’s actually shocking how much male nudity and homoerotic imagery there is for someone who ended up becoming a mainstream artist. It’s not that Spanish people today would be offended by it, it’s just that they don’t care. I guess it was also an aftereffect of the destape (1). In any case, now that we don’t have the need to let all that repressed sexuality out, queer themes outside Almodóvar are somewhat relegated to the indie scene.

Like one dear coworker of mine said: “Foreigners like Almodóvar because they don’t realize how bad the acting is, they watch him with subtitles”. Banderas does a very solid job, and Maura overdoes it but as you watch the movie you realise it just fits her character’s personality. But the rest of actors, they sound like they’re reading from a cue card or they’re radio announcers for some cheesy furniture outlet, sometimes within the same sentence. The whole thing is so fabricated and unreal that sometimes it works like a charm, though.

Must watch if you’re interested in the history of Spanish cinema. Will like it if you’re interested in LGTB-themed melodrama.

(1) Literally “uncovering”, a reaction in Spanish cinema to Francoist censorship, resulting in a lot of Spanish comedies in the late 70s and 80s containing nudity just for the sake of it and many sexual themes.

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