Acclaimed Spanish director Pedro Almodovar’s 1987 film is an unforgettable and intricate tale of lust and sexual discovery starring long-time collaborator Antonio Banderas in one of his earliest roles. Cristina Diaconu takes a look at this complex “love” story…
I have watched quite a lot of films by Pedro Almodovar and can now say there is nothing sexual or taboo that can surprise me anymore in them. In order to understand why he does films in a certain way and why sexuality is a primary theme, it helps to understand Spain’s counter-cultural movement La Movida Madrileña, and the role the director played in it.
His 1987 film Law of Desire is one of his earliest efforts and one of the few at the time to feature such explicit gay scenes. Pablo (Eusebio Poncela) is a famous film director who finds himself in an unusual situation. His unrestricted lifestyle brought him fame and numerous partners, but there is one man that he can’t completely have – Juan (Miguel Molina) – a working man and an inconstant homosexual. When Juan leaves Madrid to reflect a bit on his life, Pablo’s life becomes even less straightforward. His plays are not the only parts of the story worth dramatically staging – his sister, Tina (Carmen Maura), used to be his brother before she left the country with their father and changed gender, while Antonio (Antonio Banderas) is his new, crazy, obsessive lover, who wants to possess him and every single bit of his life. By the looks of it, Almodovar couldn’t make a more complicated yet interesting plot for this story.
The first thing that caught my eye was not (surprisingly) the man pleasuring himself in front of the camera for some money, but the choice of music, and more specifically one song that precursors the action – No me quitte pas. The reasons why he decided on a French song are a mystery, but the fact that he chose Maysa’s version, a Brazilian singer, over Edith Piaf’s, might be a way of him still preserving the ‘espanolada’ of the film.
Although the events that the protagonist is surrounded by are overly melodramatic (just like a telenovela), somehow there is room for humour; but a humour that holds a satirical aura with it. And it’s not just him and his outrageous drug use and casual sex life that make this film such an enjoyable sally. There are other characters that have an extraordinary back-story, and oh man what a story. Tina for example, is the transsexual femme fatale who hates men for an untold reason (in the beginning) and takes care of a little girl, Ada (Manuela Velasco), with whom she prays to the Virgin. Antonio, who seems like another name on the list at first, slowly starts seducing Pablo and forestalls his plans. What in the beginning looked like a trio of three men; after Antonio proved that sex and death are not far from each other, Laura P (or Tina, depends from which perspective you see it) becomes the third wheel. With a room full of colourful personalities, there has to be a story worth looking into.
Everything about this film is taken to an extreme – being obsessively in love with someone, following him/her, trying to be exactly what he/she needs and ending up murdering whoever seems to look like a threat to the relationship and your lover, including oneself. This is exactly what Antonio does; and he himself admits it – he is crazy, but for Pablo, for his attention and love. Even the title premeditates the ending – when one desires another one too much, he will not go unpunished. After all, we know that lust is one of the deadly sins; and it would be considered immoral to praise it, rather than punish it.
Written by Cristina Diaconu
Top 10 Films reviewed Law of Desire as part of the six-film Pedro Almodovar DVD box set courtesy of Studio Canal.
Law of Desire is released on DVD and Blu-ray as part of Studio Canal’s box set featuring Dark Habits, What Have I Done To Deserve This?, Law of Desire, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Kika and Flower of my Secret. The collection is released Sep 19, 2016.