Kiss of the Spider Woman is the story of two radically different men thrown together in a Latin American prison cell. One is Valentin, a journalist being tortured for his political beliefs. The other is Molina, a window-dresser who fills their lonely nights by spinning romantic fantasies drawn from memories of old movies. As their animosity gradually turns to respect, the two prisoners become entangled in an ever-tightening web of betrayal and self-sacrifice. –Cannes Film Festival
Hector Babenco became Brazil’s leading post-“cinema novo” director in the 1970s and an acclaimed Hollywood director in the 80s. All his films deal with social issues, and are best seen as personal and subjective accounts of “marginalized” people—the homeless, prostitutes, political prisoners, homosexuals.
Born to poor Russian and Polish Jewish immigrant parents, Babenco was 18 when he left Argentina on a “divine mission,” inspired by Beat and existential writers, to “know the world.” For seven years he traveled throughout Africa, Europe and the Americas, working at odd jobs. In Spain and Italy he pursued his interest in film, working as an extra in spaghetti westerns.
In 1971, Babenco emigrated to Brazil to make films. Having grown up watching Hollywood and European films with subtitles, he was impressed by the new, indigenous Brazilian cinema. The year he arrived, however, Brazil’s rightist military regime instituted strict censorship, forcing most “cinema novo” directors… read more
I really found this one to be mind-numbingly boring. In theory, the film should be amazing. An Argentinian political prisoner shares a cell with a very flamboyant homosexual man who spins a tale that’s pretty much a Nazi propaganda movie. Too bad the thing comes out undercooked. William Hurt is a powerful screen presence, and really the most intriguing element of the movie. The movie-within-a-movie is not developed. We get maybe five minute snippets every fifteen minutes or so, and it really isn’t all that interesting. The original novel had sections based off Tourneur’s Cat People and I Walked with a Zombie, and I would have liked to see those translated on film. The prison itself didn’t feel very threatening, and there wasn’t a sense of urgency in the political drama. The acting is good, but it’s overlong and too dull.
Interesting character drama works in large part to the excellent performances of Raul Julia and William Hurt. It goes on a bit too long, and takes a few credibility-stretching turns, but the strengths of the acting and a few visually impressive sequences make it a compelling piece of work.