-MONTHLY VHS & DVD REVIEW-
The Law Of Desire is available - with The Flower Of My Secret,
Kika, and Matador - in DVD boxset 'Almodóvar - The Collection, volume 2'.
The Law Of Desire|
cast: Eusebio Poncela, Carmen Maura, Antonio Banderas, Miguel Molina, and Bibi Anderson
director: Pedro Almodóvar
97 minutes (18) 1987
widescreen ratio 16:9
Optimum DVD Region 2 retail
[released 5 June]
reviewed by Paul Higson
In the early 1990s, a friend told me of his dislike of the work of Almodóvar
at a time when I had yet to see one of his films and the nation was in catch-up. It
was Almodóvar's politics that were cited most detestable. I became a fan through
his later films though Almodóvar's fantastic 1989 farce Women On The Verge
Of A Nervous Breakdown is still the fond favourite. Mala Educacion and
Carne Tremula are also great, High Heels, Todo Sobre Mi Madre,
Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down and Habla Con Ella good. But there are still a
number of mysteries in the critical history. What determines Todo Sobre Mi Madre
as the start of his 'mature period'? Surely that began with Carne Tremula or
the dull Flower Of My Secret? Why are so many convinced that Todo Sobre Mi
Madre is his best when it is not? The Law Of Desire is no more disgracefully
over the top than Todo Sobre Mi Madre, and less so than Habla Con Ella.
Where did this great early reputation come from given how poor some of the movies were?
That last question is rhetorical. The answer is known and obvious. Post-Franco Spain
and Almodóvar was a central figure in La Movida Madrilena, a sub-generation
of brash, young, reckless, hedonistic, punk pop infusers of life into the drab old-Spanish
society. It doesn't have to be good it only has to be first. Though Spanish cinema of
the 1990s harboured much that was magic, the 1980s, in retrospect, does not look too
remarkable. But then how much national cinema around the world did in the 1980s. Between
Arrebato in 1979 and Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown there really
isn't much that stands up. What principally drew attention here was that Almodóvar
was turning out commercial pink cinema. Gay cinema and its filmmakers were still underground
in America and the UK, and to the surprise of all it was machismo Spain that was bucking
the trend. This would not have been possible without Arrebato, a remarkable cult
film that set the whole movement in motion. Eusebio Poncela
was made a star by Arrebato, playing a junkie horror film director, and in his
1987 Law Of Desire, Almodóvar re-employs Poncela as a coke-snorting
experimental filmmaker and over-ground as much as 'underground' personality. In one
of the film's better, more notionally cute, conversations, a female fan regales him
with the number of times she has seen each of his films and on which viewing she preferred
one film from the other. Substituted is anything so arduous as discussion or interpretation
of the films themselves. They sport worryingly crap titles that evoke early surrealism
and the New York transgression: 'The Paradigm of the Mussel', 'Remake', 'Arse Face'
and 'Halitosis' - Certainly not clever and definitely not funny. When asked to recall
her conversation by a friend it runs: "What did he tell you?" she responds:
"Things!" As I write I almost feel a growing warmth for the film as I realise
it had foreseen the monumentally crap later YBA scene and its preponderance for doing
shocking big things to say nothing.
Poncelo plays Pablo Quintano, the gay film director who has his fair share of female
admirers too. He is bored with one boyfriend; pleased that the lad has removed himself
to his coastal hometown for something work-based and wishing the letters would stop
coming too. He writes the boy's letters for him and asks him to return them as the
letters he would like to receive. I recall some years ago offering to do something
similar with greetings cards, as I never got cards as fantastic as the ones I had
meticulously selected for others. Antonio Banderas comes into the director's life.
It is his gay sexual awakening and when he returns home to his mother he means to
hide his sexuality from her and asks that the director write him but using a female
pseudonym of Laura. Banderas is not particularly well in the head and when Quintano
rediscovers a yearning to re-familiarise himself with boy number one and investigate
a lighthouse location while there, Banderas takes it personally and kills the boy in
sight of the priapic tower. There has been one hour of relationships, a gradual build-up
of information before the real plot kicks in. French directors like Truffaut and Rohmer
get away with milling around until some late great pay off, but in Law Of Desire,
you do feel like you are being directly asked to carry certain bits of information,
informed to be patient, the story is on its way, it will all make sense soon enough.
Truffaut, on the other hand, would blind you with the quirkiness throughout and the
late introduction of suspense becomes a bonus.
The Law Of Desire feels like a prototype for Almodóvar's more polished,
later films. Yet the production values are good, a step up on the previous years slight,
overrated sexploitationer Matador. Of course, there have to be transsexuals
in an Almodóvar film, and Carmen Maura plays the sister who was once a brother
who is also a mother, while her estranged wife and the birth mother of their daughter
is played by genuine transsexual Bibi Anderson. It is an amusing gag but the film suffers
for it. I don't want to upset any transsexuals here, particularly transsexual friends,
but few actually dispense with all of their manly traits, and Carmen Maura is too
successfully female whereas Bibi's voice belongs on a building site. The plot is lively
and fun when it comes into being but it is too late after 60 minutes of the usual hack
soap lit melange. Though doubtlessly fresh in 1987, there has been much more of the
kind since, particularly from Almodóvar himself, that has been as good or better.
Not much on the DVD extras front, simply a 12-minute introduction by Jose Arroyo.