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Mad Love

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Mad Love

Starring: Pilar Lopez, Daniele Liotti
Director: Vincente Aranda
Rated: R
RunTime: 117 Minutes
Release Date: August 2002
Genres: Drama, Romance, Foreign

*Also starring: Rosana Pastor, Giuliano Gemma, Guillermo Toledo, Roberto Alvarez, Manuela Arcuri

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Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4

Whether married or not, an alpha male can usually find attractive women for his bed, when bored. In some cases there are overt marital consequences as the wives of such playboys "accept" the arrangement in order to maintain face (Mamie Eisenhower, Hillary Clinton, Eleanor Roosevelt). At other times the wives take strong action against their straying husbands (Clytemnestra, Medea, Princess Diana). Even those of us without much sense of history must have figured out that Bill Clinton was not the first powerful man to stray. Vicente Aranda's picture "Mad Love" ("Juana la loca" in the spoken language of the film), helps to prove this point, showing us what one particular aggrieved wife does when her prince wreaks havoc on their marriage.

Watching Vicente Aranda, one wonders how kids today could find history boring: on second thought, perhaps this is because textbooks tend to be insipid and the visual splendor of history is denied since the students never get to see films like "Juana la loca." To go a step further, how many people history majors or otherwise even heard of her? This could be because her reign was too short to affect Spanish history, but Juana, who might be shunned by feminists today as yet another one of the many women who love too much, was ahead of her time in her willingness freely to expression her passion.

The film is anchored by solid work from Pilar Lopez de Ayala "Besos para today," "Bailame el agua") as the title character whose chilling work is undermined by some oddly detached acting from Daniele Liotti as Austrian Archduke Felipe. (Felipe's stiff performance in bed mirrors Liotti's work as an actor). "Juana la loca" seems to assure us in the audience that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Having been set up by her mother, Queen Isabella of Castile, to marry Felipe for political reasons, the virginal 18-year-old Juana discovers lust at first sight upon setting eyes on the archduke in Flanders. Her feelings reciprocated, they marry that very day and entertain the ladies in waiting who hover at the bedroom door and giggle to Juana's moans.

When Felipe gets enough of her, his eyes wander to others while Juana, who is rightfully infuriated catching her man in bed with one of the court ladies, is nonetheless so consumed by her passion that she embraces the womanizer despite his numerous betrayals. Ultimately, Felipe becomes fired more by a lust to become King of Castile than by his amorous adventures and arranges to have the assemblage of nobles declare Juana insane and name him Regent.

The action, which takes place at the turn of the Sixteenth Century, is worthy instruction in court intrigue. Anyone with the slightest interest in politics today sees a parallel between the conspiracy of Flemish nobles to put their main man on a Spanish throne and the iniquitous actions by Republicans in Congress to make a political mountain of Bill Clinton's wanderlust molehill. While Lopez's performance excites the senses, no one in the all-Spanish cast approaches her bravada, Moreover photographer Paco Femenia's canvas is badly lit and falls far short of the big-budget excitement that is a hallmark of lavish costume dramas like Peter Greenaway's "The Draftsman's Contract," Philips Haas's "Angels and Insects" and many of the glorious Merchant-Ivory productions. See it for history, for its one solid performance, and think of what more money rightly spent could have done to make this bodice-ripper more soulful.

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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