May 29, 2011 § Leave a comment
Adapted for the Screen by Manuel Puig, based on the novel by Leonard Schrader
Directed by Hector Babenco
Starring William Hurt and Raul Julia
As a film, Kiss of the Spider Woman can be a little monotonous and theatrical, but then, its clearly a stage play that was developed as a film. In looking at the film as a filmed stage play, it’s brilliant.
Hurt’s Molina, an effeminate, homosexual prisoner in jail for sex with a minor, has been paired up with a Communist rebel named Arregui, played by Raul Julia. They sit around their cell recounting their pre-prison lives, their lifelong dreams and aspirations and occasionally escape their depressing circumstances by recounting a favorite film of Molina’s, a Nazi propaganda film that the politically disinclined Molina enjoys for the love story and that Arregui dislikes because its a positive story about Nazis.
As Molina, Hurt truly is fantastic. At times, he is like any other straight man, at other times, he is clearly a woman trapped in a man’s body and above all its a character. As the films story unfolds we see the many sides to Molina and Hurt’s characters deceits, both to himself and to others, is astounding. Hurt disappears into Molina, from the hair and make up, to his voice and physicality. It’s an understated performance of an effeminate homosexual who is much more than his sexual orientation.
As Arregui, Raul Julia is equally fantastic in a more tragic role as a man so driven by his political convictions that he sacrifices everything else in his life, right down to his health. He’s too serious for his own good and too sincere for his own good as well. He might be a political prisoner with intense convictions, but as a person he has weaknesses that could be his undoing.
The two characters are complete opposites in terms of life style but they’re equals in terms of wanting the freedom to be who they are- sexually and politically, respectfully. Molina just wants to love whomever he wants to love and be himself without judgment while Raul Julia wants what any communist wants. They find themselves at constant odds with each other but continue to find common ground. Molina has a devastating secret and its not clear if his interactions with Arregui are completely deceitful and goal-oriented or if there’s some sincere longing for friendship in their conversations.
It’s a difficult film with complex ideas and a dense narrative, but its very fulfilling and satisfying thanks to Hurts and Julia’s captivating performances. Kiss of the Spider Woman is a nearly forgotten master class in acting and dialogue and well worth a viewing, so long as you’re up for the challenge.