Kiss of the Spider Woman-1985
Starring-William Hurt, Raul Julia
Scott’s Review #187
Reviewed October 24, 2014
1985 was not the best of years for film nor was much of the 1980’s, as I think about it, but unique standouts do exist and Kiss of the Spider Woman is an unusual and artistic film.
Set in present day South America (Brazil) two men are imprisoned for very different reasons and are cellmates in the prison where they are captives. Complete opposites, they form an unlikely bond, centering on friendship, but also skirting towards romance, flirtation, and at times, love. Luis Molina is outwardly homosexual and extremely flamboyant and perhaps out of touch with reality as he fantasizes and describes romantic Nazi films. He is imprisoned for not only being homosexual, but of having sex with an underage male. The other man, Valentin Arregui, is a liberal, political activist, who has been beaten, tortured, and interrogated due to his revolutionary leaning politics- he has a rough, macho edge to him. On the surface the two men have nothing in common, but due to close proximity, forge a close bond and mutual respect for each other as their lives pre-imprisonment are explained to each other as well as to the audience. The true strength of this film is the performance, very against type, of William Hurt- his best performance of his career by a mile. He completely embodies the character of Luis in his effeminacy, yearning, pain, and obsession with escaping reality through film. Raul Julia has the same effect, though in a completely different way, as he portrays Valentin. Luis tenderly comforts Valentin, who is being poisoned by prison officials, by incorporating his stories of films into Valentin’s real-life, as he yearns for his separated lover, Marta. As Luis begins falling in love with Valentin, and one is seemingly double-crossed by the other, it leads to a test of courage and dedication to each other.
The ending of the film is a sad one, dark, yet thought provoking, and shows of love, tenderness, and bravery. My only negative from Kiss of the Spider Woman is at moments, using the flashback series or through the film that Luis explains, it is tough to follow and surmise what is exactly going on in the story, but the performances of Hurt and Julia, and the chemistry between them, are the films major strengths.
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director-Hector Babenco, Best Actor-William Hurt (won), Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium
Independent Spirit Award Nominations: Best International Film (won)