Monday, July 15, 2013

Law of Desire (La ley del deseo)

LAW OF DESIRE (La ley del deseo)   A-    
Spain  (102 mi)  1987  d:  Pedro Almodóvar

Considered Almodóvar’s most personal, but also one of his funniest films, a blurring of art and reality, a jumbled mix of comedy, erotic drama, over the top melodrama, and suspense thriller, murder mystery, featuring a magnificent performance from Carmen Maura, who is perfect in her sexual ambiguity as a love-starved, overly sensuous actress who turns out to be a transsexual, who all but steals the movie from everyone else.  Opening with wild orchestral music by Shostakovich from his 10th Symphony (1987): Opening titles - Shostakovich's Symphony no.10 ... - YouTube (1:27), conducted by Kiril Kondrashin no less, you know you’re in for a bumpy ride, and this film does not fail.  The opening sequence is a hilarious film within a film, which features an actor following unseen voiced instructions to get naked and pleasure himself on a bed, a beautiful set up for a slowly developing scene where the camera eventually pulls back and we see two balding old farts reading a script of overheated, out of breath gasps and heavy pants of two supposed male characters having sex.  Also featured are many signature Almodóvar touches, his love for the city of Madrid, a town filled with familiar faces and an over-testosteroned, yet inept police presence, male abandonment, an overexposed media, an almost peculiar interest in sex, telephones, dysfunctional families, dirty priests, and drug use.  This film, more than any other Almodóvar film, makes the best use of overly dramatic pop songs, where the lyrics perfectly express the emotions in such a character driven film.  In effect, Almodóvar is tapping into Latin American sentimental songs, called boleros, that are at the emotional center of this film, paying homage to different forms of expression that Spaniards had, to a certain extent, disdained before Almodóvar came onto the scene.

Eusebio Poncela plays Pablo (a stand-in for the director?), a character who’d feel right at home in Fellini’s LA DOLCE VITA (1960), whose self-centered narcissism is reflective of the gay life in post-Franco Madrid, as he parades around in silk suits and wild flower shirts wearing shades, playing the film director from the opening scene who takes home any young man that interests him, feeding him with lines of coke, so he’s pretty much butt naked much of the time, while Maura plays his sister Tina that used to be his brother, and stars in his latest one-woman-show stage production of a 1930 Jean Cocteau play, The Human Voice, a monologue about a woman and a suitcase which resurfaces again in Almodóvar’s next film as well.  Tina is also caring for Pablo’s young daughter Ada (Manuela Velasco), exposing her to the comforts of the church (where she sang as a young altar boy) in her own overtly personalized way (“I used to jerk-off in here all the time.”), breaking out into sacred song for a priest that is extremely uncomfortable seeing what’s become of this once favored child.  There is a wildly inventive scene where both Tina and Ada are on stage, Maura is wearing a revealing silk slip while talking on the phone in one of those life or death conversations, while young Ada appears to be levitating as if she's standing on thin air in a slowly moving dolly-on-wheels, lip-synching to one of the more overtly dramatic songs in the film, Maysa Matarazzo’s “Ne Me Quitte Pas (Don’t Leave Me)” La Ley Del Deseo (Trailer) YouTube (2:27), which works so well, she does it again going back the other way.  This becomes even more hilarious when Ada’s real mother, Bibiana Fernández, one of Spain’s most famous real-life transsexuals, shows up and wants to take her to Milan, but Ada has no interest in her mother’s cavalier and overly nonchalant lifestyle and wants to stay with the more stable and dependable Maura, who she emulates, much of which is acted out just offstage.  Again, the song lyrics brilliantly match what we are experiencing onstage.

Back to the life of the director, Pablo, who we first see with lover Juan, Miguel Molina, a younger man who is unable to commit, still exploring with the idea of love and is not yet comfortable being gay, so he returns to work in a small coastal town, leaving an opening for Antonio Banderas as Antonio, a bisexual young man who stalks and eventually seduces the director before murdering his boyfriend, making his move with such an all-consuming passion that all hell breaks loose, his first such venture into homoerotic sexuality, expressed by an overwhelming need to possess Pablo all to himself, where he shatters the ties that hold everyone together.  He disposes of Juan on a rocky cliff reminiscent of Vertigo (1958), while then covering his murderous tracks hiding behind lame excuses that are backed up by his overly protective mother.  Pablo, in despair at the death of Juan, drives into a tree and loses his memory.  At the hospital, Tina fills in all the lurid details of their past, including her love affair with her own father, which resulted in her sex change operation incest scene in La Ley del deseo with Carmen Maura (Almodovar movie) YouTube (3:00).  Tina is the emotional center of the film, especially her poignant feelings about her tortured past and her distrust of men, where her history recalls Elvira in Fassbinder’s In a Year of 13 Moons (In einem Jahr mit 13 Monden... (1978), where like Elvira, she even gets her sex change operation in Morocco, but ends up being much more comfortable in her own skin.  She’s found a new love of her life, and it turns out to be none other than Antonio on another obsessed rampage.  The police, the bungling duo of real-life father and son, Fernando Guillén and Fernando Guillén Cuervo, haven’t a clue until eventually Antonio kidnaps Tina, demands Pablo, then in an hour of uninterrupted time that he successfully negotiates, makes love to Pablo while the dramatic music blares out onto the street below, confounding the police who can only scratch their heads as a crowd of onlookers gathers in mass.  LAW OF DESIRE is one of Almodóvar’s most explicit treatments of homosexuality in his films, in its day a breath of fresh air, representing the director at his best in the early stages of his career, where his ability to combine social commentary with an extraordinary amount of risk-taking cemented his reputation as an early forerunner in advancing queer cinema.  

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