Law of Desire (1987)

Director: Pedro Almodovar

Stars: Carmen Maura, Eusebio Poncela, Antonio Banderas, Miguel Molina

Releasing Company: Sony Pictures Classics

MPAA Rating: R
Viva Pedro!

Pedro Almodovar


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Unquestionably, surrealist Luis Bunuel ranks as the most influential Spanish filmmaker of all time (the only ambiguity being his nationality since he crossed numerous boundaries during his career). Following in his legendary footsteps is Pedro Almodovar, whose brand of surrealism often borders on bad taste while entertaining with colorful characters in absurd melodrama. Frequently featuring strong females, Almodovar invariably also includes gay and transgendered characters in his comedic mix. Although many film buffs have followed Almodovar's work for over two decades, pretentious cineastes seeking more serious foreign fare frequently overlook contemporary Spain's preeminent director.

That may soon change. Sony Pictures Classics recently sponsored a Viva Pedro! retrospective that began in New York City and Los Angeles before spreading to other U.S. markets--bringing new prints of eight Almodovar films back for theatrical screening. Spearheaded by three recent releases that played prominently in U.S. art houses, the tribute included five earlier works that are less familiar to American viewers. Among the strongest of these more obscure offerings is La ley del deseo (The Law of Desire).

Released in 1987, The Law of Desire primarily revolves around gay theatrical director Pablo Quintero (Eusebio Poncela) and his dangerous affair with obsessed stalker Antonio Benitez (Antonio Banderas). As the film opens, the 40-year-old director pines for young Juan Benitez, but he realizes that his twenty-something bi-sexual partner can never fully reciprocate his love. Juan decides to sort things out and relocates to an isolated lighthouse. When Juan's first letter home doesn't satisfy, Pablo composes a more romantic letter that expresses melancholy longing and sends this back to Juan with instructions for him to sign and mail this back to him. This fake typewritten love memo provides a pivotal plot device.

Despite being lovesick for Juan, Pablo continues his sexually promiscuous lifestyle, and Antonio soon attaches himself to the filmmaker--far too clingy for Pablo's taste. This time the younger man lusts voraciously for the filmmaker, and is willing to do whatever he can to be with his man (reminiscent of Glenn Close's psychotic obsession in Fatal Attraction). When Antonio comes across Juan's sad, yearning love note, all Hell breaks loose. Neither Pablo's nor Juan's life will ever be the same as a result of this tragic three-way unrequited love triangle.

A subplot involves Pablo's transsexual sister Tina (Carmen Maura), who has a humorous moment with a lascivious priest that fondly remembers her pure voice when "she" served as an alter boy. Additional surprises are revealed, though these won't shock Almodovar devotees. A vivacious actress who is taking care of her ex-lover's daughter, Tina prepares for her brother's next play, The Human Voice (that forms the basis of Almodovar's next film, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown).

The Law of Desire contains plenty of Almodovar touches, which makes for great fun. Brightened considerably by the acting talents of Maura and Banderas, it's no puzzle to see why Almodovar employed these two in multiple films. American audiences more familiar with Banderas' low key supporting role to Tom Hanks in Philadelphia can revel in wide-eyed amazement over his full raging homoerotic lust in this 1987 film. Banderas' intensity transforms what could have been bizarre off the wall melodrama into a provocative psychological study about the potential devastating cost of wanton love. Among the most powerful of Almodovar's early work, its inclusion in the Viva Pedro! retrospective should bring additional interest and appreciation. Almodovar clearly demonstrates that weighty subject matter need not be presented in a meditative manner. Light-hearted touches often deliver more effectively--just like Life.

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