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Labyrinth Of Passion
cast: Cecilia Roth, Imanol Arias, Helga Line, Marta Fernandez Muro, and Fernando Vivanco

director: Pedro Almodóvar

94 minutes (18) 1982
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Tartan DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
When the time came for me to review this film I fed it into the DVD player and realised that I couldn't remember what it was about the film that had piqued my interest sufficiently to request a review copy. As the credits rolled I saw young people strolling out checking out the bulges in blokes' trousers from behind huge 1980s' sunglasses. The dated designs and slightly cheap feel to the film and lighting immediately reminded me of Robin Asquith sex comedies and those weird Bavarian erotic films that pervaded late-night cable in the early 1990s. Had I really requested some Spanish retro porn?

It in fact turned out that I hadn't. Labyrinth Of Passion (aka: Laberinto de Passiones, to give it its proper title) is in fact Pedro Almodóvar's second film after the spectacularly named Pepi, Luci, Bon, And Other Women On The Heap (1980). Like most of Almodóvar's films, Labyrinth Of Passion is a heady mix of taboo-less pan-sexuality, operatic melodrama and camp stylings. Clearly not for everyone, this mix is particularly potent here.

Sexilia (Cecilia Roth), who is naturally enough called Sexi, is a nymphomaniac who is terrified of the Sun. Daughter to a sexless expert in artificial insemination, she casually drifts through Madrid's chic clubs with her agonisingly trendy and bitchy friends bedding an endless series of men. That is until she meets Riza (Imanol Arias), the son of the Emperor of Tirana making the most of a year's wandering by bedding lots of men and making a name for himself as the front man of a camp punk band. When the two meet, there is an instant connection that soon turns to love.

However, hovering on the horizon is Toraya (Helga Line), Riza's mother. Desperate the keep herself Empress, Toraya is initially in Madrid to meet with Sexi's father (Fernando Vivanco) but upon seeing Riza she realises that the best way to keep herself in power is to shag her own son. As this tongue-in-cheek melodrama plays out there also a number of subplots on the go including one featuring Antonio Banderas as a Muslim extremist in love with Riza and a particularly twisted story of a pharmaceutical arms race between a father, who overdoses on aphrodisiac, and a daughter who feeds him animal tranquillisers in order to stop the randy old bastard from tying her to a bed in order to have his wicked way with her.

The best part of this film is its endlessly optimistic and accepting tone. In Almodóvar's world, everyone is bisexual and everyone is constantly on the pull. Regardless of whether you're the son of an Emperor, a weird drag queen or an old bloke who works in a dry cleaner, all sexual possibilities are open to you and everything is fair enough. Even incest is seen as largely unproblematic with the old man's use of his daughter suggested more as a mild inconvenience than as the soul-crushing nightmare that such a relationship would be were it real. This gives Almodóvar's films the same 'grown-up fairytale' feel that pervades a lot of porn. Indeed, it's a real testament to Almodóvar's authorial voice that, despite dealing in incest and betrayal, the film never feels downbeat or unpleasant. It is just endlessly silly and uplifting.

The performances are also pretty good. Cecilia Roth is perfectly cast as Sexilia; incredibly attractive without seeming bland or artificial, she carries herself with the perfect mix of sensuality and ambivalence that perfectly captures the mood of the film. Fellow lead Imanol Arias also produces a nice performance as the insanely open-minded Riza. They are ably supported by a cast composed of weird characters and more traditional actors who all seem perfectly at ease in Almodóvar's weirdly hypnotic fantasy world.

The only problem with Labyrinth Of Passion is that if you've ever seen any of Almodóvar's other films (his last few being possible exceptions) then this is more of the same. We have the open sexuality, the glamorous and slightly surreal stylings, the odd-looking actors, and lots and lots of trannies. The main plot is so preposterous that the film would be un-watchable were it not for the fact that it is presented with its tongue firmly planted in its cheek. Indeed, the fact that the film is intended to be ironic and silly makes it difficult to really find anything of substance to get to grips with; there's camp silliness and very little else. However, having said that, this film is just good clean unwholesome fun and you'd have to be dead inside to not warm to it.
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