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Hector Babenco was primarily known to me for directing Ironweed (1987) but this independent drama was what shot him to fame in the United States as it earned a Best Picture nomination and won William Hurt the Academy Award for Best Actor. I liked the idea of the film in theory more than I did in practice as the two leads lacked chemistry and the transition from apathy to a close emotional bond was muddled and difficult. I still found some enjoyment in the fake propaganda film described by the protagonist but Hurt's over the top performance left me cold and I was left emotionally unmoved at the end of the film. If you have an interest in seeing South American magical realism translated onto the screen with big name actors and a big budget then this will be of interest but it lacks the passion of The Holy Mountain (1973) and Dreams (1990).
Brazilian prisoners, the gay Luis Molina, William Hurt, and the macho political prisoner Valentin Arregui, Raul Julia, under the military government form a close emotional bond as Molina describes a Nazi propaganda film to his cellmate. He romanticizes the film due to the tragic romance at it's center which follows Nazi officer Werner, Herson Capri, and nightclub performer Leni Lamaison, Sonia Braga, who begins working for the resistance after the death of her friend. Molina is revealed to be a spy who is trying to extract secrets from Arregui in exchange for his release but struggles to do so as he begins genuinely falling in love with him. The two eventually sleep together and proclaim their feelings for one another but Molina is released from prison and attempts to carry out his lover's wishes.
The humor of the film within a film is quite refreshing amidst the depressing drama of the rest of the film as this is really the only time when the high camp of Hurt's performance is put to good use. We see the irony in a man taking a story intended to push ideals that would have gay men killed and extracting only the beauty of a tragic love story out of it. Possibly the only point in the film where I was emotionally touched was when Hurt describes the ideal of loving somebody forever but also the impossibility of this. The love stories of classic films present this idea constantly as the ideal love affair from Casablanca (1942) to For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943) would appear to be getting separated from the love of your life as a result of political conflict. When we see the Aryan ideal and his Marlene Dietrich-esque lover walking into a projection room where they learn about the supposed "Jewish conspiracy" elicits some laughter but the film is careful never to push the joke too far. The other film within a film concerning the titular ‘spider woman' is less engaging as we spend less time on it as we do with Arregui's character development as a whole.
The rest of the film is less interesting as Hurt goes to 11 in his portrayal of the effeminate Molina with every line being accompanied by big hand gestures and every emotion spelt out in capital letters. I wanted something more to him than this surface level portrayal and even his recollection of his attempts at love and rejection were not enough to make me believe this was an emotionally tortured man. An actor with more restraint could have done something really interesting with this part as there is room for layering and complexity but Hurt does not yet have the subtlety that would make him so brilliant in Children of a Lesser God (1986) and The Accidental Tourist (1988). Julia does a decent job at portraying a tough, emotionally fraught man but his attraction to Hurt is never believable on an emotional physical level and in that way they let the film down. Only Braga seems to have a handle on her character as she is exquisite in her imitation of old Hollywood stars and hits all the right comedic beats.
Overall this film is not worth recommending as it would seem to tell a fascinating story about friendship and even love between men but never delves deep enough to make us care.
This brought me back to high school where I read the novel by Manuel Puig. A transgender woman, Molina, and a political prisoner, Valentin, share the same prison cell in Brazil (Argentina in the book). Valentin enjoys most of the time listening to Molina recounting her favourite movies and later both come to understand and respect each other. Outstanding performance of William Hurt, for which he earned an Oscar and a Bafta in which he really embodies the scared, and yet so brave Molina. It is a deep and complex take on humanity.
Kiss of the Spider Woman a 1985 Brazilian-American drama film directed by Héctor Babenco.
Overrated movie despite the fact it was released in 1985. William Hurt as a gay (or transvestite man, it is unclear) is not credible, his impersonation is a succession of clichés. There are heterosexual actors who did much better than him in the 30's, 40's and 50's. I cannot believe he won an oscar and other awards for this role. The rest is simply boring; I don't understand why it would be so daring to build a plot around the Nazis during WW II, and the mirror game with the political context in a fictional south american country could have been interesting if it was not ruined by the boredom that slowly instills while watching this mediocre movie.
A mostly entertaining, occasionally confused and convoluted story about 2 very different men finding common ground, while not necessarily accepting the others choices or lifestyle. William Hurt was rightly acclaimed for his performance, exuding gentility, kindness but also an unspoken determinedness. Raul Julia plays off him well, clashing and conflicting as their bond develops within the confines of a grim South America prisoner, it becomes far less interesting in the last 20 odd minutes, when it feels like it's just stalling for time, but what leads up to it is compelling, beautifully directed and acted so well that its more than worth watching at least once.
In fact, the film is a collection of clichés (both in the main story and the meta story) that Babenco and Schrader somehow turned into a fascinating character study.
An intriguing disquisition on escapist movie fantasises in the oppressive milieu of a prison cell and a cross-dressing gay man's (William Hurt in an Oscar-winning performance) secret wish to die for true love like the female protagonist in his make-believe.
It is remarkable how this film turned out to be so superb and profound despite all the many cuts and re-edits it went through in post-production, surprising us with its direction, editing and two exceptional central performances - especially William Hurt, who deserved the Oscar he won.
Masterpiece, e tenho dito!!!
one of the few that is as good as the book! memorable!
Impressive William Hurt performance but the movie in overall is quite confusing. An attempt to blend realism with fantasy. Not sure if the end result is a pure success.