Based on the novel by Manuel Puig, Kiss of the Spider Woman is the story of two different men imprisoned at a Brazilian jail cell as they talk about a film to kill the time. The film they discuss would parallel their own fate as they each try to figure out what to do with the time they spend in prison. Directed by Hector Babenco and with a script adapted by Leonard Schrader, the film is a mixture of two different narratives as told by a gay man and a political prisoner. Starring Raul Julia, William Hurt, Sonia Braga, Milton Goncalves, and Jose Lewgoy. Kiss of the Spider Woman is a marvelous film from Hector Babenco.
Sharing a cell in a Brazilian prison are two different men for two very different crimes as the flamboyant Luis Molina (William Hurt) tells a story about a film he had seen many years ago to his cellmate Valentin Arregui (Raul Julia). Luis is in prison for having sex with an underage boy while Valentin is serving time for his radical political beliefs. In order to kill time, Luis tells the often aggravated Valentin the film he saw about a French woman (Sonia Braga) who falls for a Nazi officer (Herson Capri) in World War II as she becomes confused about her role due to her unwilling involvement with the French resistance. Though Valentin always keep watching who is being taken and tortured, he wonders about what is going on in the outside world.
Valentin eventually reveals stories about his own life and why he went to prison as he and Luis become close. With Valentin’s health failing due to bad food, Luis takes care of him by telling him the film about the French woman and another one about a spider woman (Sonia Braga) to comfort him. When Luis is set to be paroled, he spends his last moments with Valentin as Luis tries to hide a dark secret for the reasons he’s being released. Suddenly, Luis’s own life and his predicament is paralleling the movie he told Valentin making him feel guilty for what he’s doing.
The film is simply about two different prisoners that becomes close during their time as one of them tells a story to help kill time. The story that this man tells involves betrayal and sacrifice as it would later parallel his own fate. Yet, it’s more about the relationship of these two different men that is the heart of the film. One is a very political yet intense man that wants to know what is going on while dealing with his own personal issues. The other is a charming homosexual that is just kind to everyone while yearning to be with a man. What happens is that a love story sort of comes out but not in a conventional format of what is expected.
Leonard Schrader’s screenplay is brilliant for the multi-layered storylines presented in the film as it’s carried mainly by the main bulk of the narrative involving the two prisoners. The other narrative about the French cabaret singer and the Nazi officer falls for is presented in a 1940s style melodrama. There’s also narratives that’s largely based on the memories of the two prisoners as Valentin’s own story involves the conflict he’s dealing with between politics and his love for a woman (Sonia Braga). For Luis, his pre-prison life has him revealing the care he has for his mother (Miriam Pires) and a straight waiter (Nuno Leal Maia). Schrader’s script succeeds in not playing to what the film-within-a-film narrative would foreshadow but also get into the heart of relationship between these two very different yet extreme men.
The direction of Hector Babenco ranges into many degrees of style for the film as the main bulk of the film involving Luis and Valentin is intimate yet wondrous as it opens with this wonderful 360 degree camera movement as Luis tells his story. Babenco goes for a very straightforward approach to the direction while maintaining a sense of style in his framing while the shots outside of the prison are shot on location in Sao Paulo. For the sequences that Luis telling from a film, the 1940s portion of the film is presented in a look that recalls the melodrama of the times. The film also dwells into many genres from prison drama, melodrama, and suspense as the suspense in the 1940s sequence do come back in a more intense manner for the film’s third act. The overall work Babenco does is thrilling and engaging as he creates a gorgeous yet mesmerizing film.
Cinematographer Rodolfo Sanchez does an amazing job with the film‘s photography to maintain a gritty though stylish look for the prison scenes with candle lights for the nighttime scenes and some colorful ones for some scenes in Sao Paulo. For the 1940s and Spider Woman fantasy scenes, both scenes take on different color palettes as the 1940s scene that takes on a sepia color while the Spider Woman sequences is all shot in blue. Editor Mauro Alice does an excellent job with the editing to help structure the different strands of narrative while moving them back and forth seamlessly without disrupting the flow of the film.
Art director Clovis Bueno does a great job with the set pieces created for the film such as the grimy cell Luis and Valentin live in to the lavish world of the 1940s scene. Costume designer Patricio Besso does a brilliant job with the costumes for the 1940s film scene to play its lavish tone along with a more colorful array of clothes for the character of Luis. Sound editor Susan Dudeck does a nice job with the sound work to capture the intimate chaos of the prison scenes while going for a more broader approach for the nightclub scene in the 1940s portion of the film. The film’s score by John Neschling and Nando Cordeiro is superb for its array of different styles of music. Ranging from dramatic violin music to play up the relationship between Luis and Valentin to cabaret style for the 1940s stuff along with suspenseful-driven electronic music for parts of the third act. The score is among one of the film’s highlights in its technical field.
The casting for the film is terrific as it features an amazing ensemble that includes Antonio Petrin and Wilson Grey as two French resistance agents, Denise Dumont as a friend of the cabaret singer, and Herson Capri as the Nazi officer the singer falls for as they all appear in the film set in the 1940s. Other notable performances include Miriam Pires as Luis’ mother, Nuno Leal Maia as a waiter friend of Luis, Milton Gonclaves as an abusive policeman, and Jose Lewgoy as a corrupt warden. Sonia Braga is great in a trio of roles to exemplify the personalities that the two men dwell into the film. For the role of the cabaret singer, Braga brings a very dramatized approach to the character to play up the tone of that film. In the role of the Spider Woman and as Valentin’s lover Marta, she goes for a more restrained approach in the latter while being more exotic in the former.
Finally, there’s the two phenomenal performances of William Hurt and Raul Julia that are truly the heart and soul of the film. Hurt brings a very captivating yet engaging performance as the sensitive Luis as he makes the man more than just a flamboyant homosexual. Hurt allows Luis to be very complex as he’s a man that is conflicted with what he’s set to do while trying to be a friend to Valentin. Julia’s performance as Valentin is a more fiery role than Hurt’s Luis as Julia gets to match up to Hurt’s showier performance by displaying the anguish Valentin is going through. Hurt and Julia together show different dynamics in their performances as the two together make one hell of a combo in what is truly acting at its finest.
Kiss of the Spider Woman is an extraordinary film from Hector Babenco that features outstanding performances from William Hurt and Raul Julia. Featuring a great supporting performance from Sonia Braga and a fascinating script by Leonard Schrader. It’s a film plays up the idea of fantasy and reality as it’s told with amazing style and through a solid cast that gives the film something more than what it is expected for a film that bends genres. Kiss of the Spider Woman is an imaginative yet evocative film from Hector Babenco.
Hector Babenco Films: (O Fabuloso Fittipaldi) - (King of the Night) - (Lucio Flacio, Passenger of Agony) - (Pixote) - (A Terra e Redonda Como uma Laranja) - (Ironweed) - (At Play in the Fields of the Lord) - (Foolish Heart) - (Carandiru) - (El Pasado)
© thevoid99 2011