|Laberinto de pasiones. Cecilia Roth as Sexilia, exchanging a look with Riza Niro (offscreen) which will change the lives of both hypersexuals forever. Please click to enlarge.|
The film has an interesting and appealing compilation score. I have not been able to find a listing of its sources, but Pedro Almodóvar himself gives clues in Nuria Vidal's book. A key inspiration was Nino Rota whose score was also lifted bodily to some scenes such as the twist from La dolce vita to the scene where Sexilia, who has had enough of her nymphomaniac ways, takes the early morning subway to meet Riza Niro.
Helsinki premiere: 10.8.1990 Andorra, released by Senso Films, with Finnish subtitles only by Vesa Toijonen & Mikko Lyytikäinen - VET 96795 - K16 - 2710 m / 100 min
Previewed on the dvd released by 2007 by Sandrew Metronome / Warner Bros. Entertainment Finland with Finnish subtitles by PrimeText International and Swedish / Danish / Norwegian subtitle alternatives, 95 min at 25 fps.
A vintage Senso Films print viewed at Kino Iglu, Karkkila, 20 Feb 2016
A screwball comedy, a romantic comedy, a punk extravaganza, a political thriller involving terrorism, and a key document of the new wave lifestyle in Madrid of the late 1970s and the early 1980s. Influences range from Federico Fellini to Emmanuelle.
I had not seen Laberinto de pasiones since it was first released in Finland by the Senso Films company of the Kaurismäki brothers. By then I was already a converted Pedro Almodóvar aficionado having found several of his subsequent films masterful. Laberinto de pasiones seemed then mainly interesting as a piece of apprenticeship before Almodóvar's period of mastery. I could relate to the punk excess of the film thinking about what Spain had been going through during the Franco years.
Today I watched the film twice, first on dvd, and then in a film screening, and it turned out to be much better than I had realized. It belongs to the "cinema of attractions" on a surface level, but nothing becomes more tiresome than constant excess and exaggeration. But there is more in Laberinto de pasiones.
As a comedy, as a farce, Laberinto de pasiones is partly hit and miss and partly truly funny and unique. Targets of the satire include test tube babies, Islamist tyranny, virility cures, medicalization in general, and plastic surgery.
Even hypersexuality itself is a major target of satire. Both protagonists, with whom we sympathize, are hypersexuals. They are victims of their urges, cured first when they discover each other. The opening montage is about their cruising in the Madrid flea market, only able to focus on men's crotches. The happy ending is a tender parody of Emmanuelle.
The dialogue is funny, also in the key sequence where Sexilia and Riza Niro are together for the first time. "We need everything but desire nothing". "We talk a lot about love, never about sex". "Would you like to be an Empress? I can only offer you luxury and insecurity". "That would be an experience".
Visually, Laberinto de pasiones is a big step forward from Pepi, Luci, Bom. For the first time Almodóvar shoots on 35 mm and has a great cinematographer. With Ángel Luis Fernández Almodóvar would shoot five films back to back. There is an impressive fullness of the colour, and an assured sense of mise-en-scène and camera movement. Visually, Laberinto de pasiones is professional.
On the dvd I saw the Finnish subtitles had a run of the mill quality. They conveyed the basic information adequately. It was a revelation to see the Senso Films print with the subtitles by Vesa Toijonen and Mikko Lyytikäinen. First there I realized the wit and the poetry of the dialogue. Even the song lyrics, written by Almodóvar himself, were translated. (No translation of the lyrics on the dvd).
On the film print the colour still looks juicy and vibrant. The beautiful print looks like it must have been struck from a source not far from the camera negative.
NOTES FOR MY REMARKS TO INTRODUCE THE FILM AT KINO IGLU
Pedro Almodóvar's second theatrical feature film belongs to his early post-Franco period, reflecting the new mentality where all Franco-era taboos were being broken. Franco had died in 1975, and soon a Spanish New Wave broke out in contrast to the harsh censorship that had reigned until then. Taboos included religion, drugs, and sex.
Sexuality was displayed frankly, including gay, lesbian, and transgender characters. In Laberinto de pasiones, we learn to know Sexilia as a nymphomaniac who during the course of the film for the first time decides to focus on a single partner. Riza Niro we learn to know as a gay erotomaniac who has his first experience with a woman with his mother-in-law, Princess Toraya. The two hypersexual protagonists, Sexilia and Riza Niro, start dating in abstinence, but during the finale we see an airplane ascending to heaven and hear the sound of their passionate embrace.
Further aspects of sexuality explored include incest: Queti's dry-cleaner father has a sex relationship with his daughter whom he mistakes for his wife. He has become deranged since his wife left him and boosts his potency with strong medicine. There is also an background of incestuous feelings behind Sexilia, and Queti, her admirer turns via plastic surgery into her double, and now Queti indulges in sex with Sexilia's father. Of course also Riza Niro's and Princess Toraya's intercourse has a taboo aspect. Toraya wants to get pregnant with his sperm since the regent of Tiran has left her.
There is also a sadomasochistic sequence where Pedro Almodóvar himself appears as the director of a staged torture scene involving a drill and stage blood.
In Laberinto de pasiones we can already find many elements of Pedro Almodóvar's approach. They are a wildly improbable mix, including melodrama, film noir, the thriller, chase movies, pop, punk, and porn.
Almodóvar is also fond of the Spanish traditions of the zarzuela musical and an absurd approach to humour known as esperpento.
Almodóvar broke to international attention as a leading post-modernist. His early films were liberating and exhilarating in their way with the "anything goes" attitude. He fought taboo and prejudice on all fronts.
Judging Almodóvar as an artist, all these remarks on taboos and post-modernism are but surface matters. Visually, Almodóvar developed a remarkably original and strong idiom from sources that also include Technicolor, tv commercials, Hammer horror, and candy collector's cards. Almodóvar is a powerful Colourist whose signature colour is red, "in China, the colour of the one condemned to death, in Spain, the colour of passion, fire, and blood".
Even more deeply, there is an appealing strength of personality and a consistent, powerful emotional flow in his movies, no matter how outlandish their characters or narratives. Almodóvar finds a sense of humanity and an universal attraction in even the most improbable circumstances.
BACKGROUND: ALMODÓVAR'S BELOVED TEAM OF ACTORS
At the same time Almodóvar was discovering a core team of talented artists with whom he has since created an original oeuvre for over 35 years now that is by now a remarkable achievement in modern art.
Among Almodóvar's actors we meet in Laberinto de pasiones:
CECILA ROTH, an Argentinian, who had already played in Pepi, Luci, Bom, and would continue in Entre tinieblas, Qué he hecho you para merecer esto?, Todo sobre mi madre, Habla con ella, Los amantes pasajeros. It seems that she always plays with Almodóvar when she is in Spain.
IMANOL ARIAS would also play in La flor de mi secreto.
HELGA LINÉ was a veteran since 1941, and she would play also in La ley del deseo.
MARTA FERNÁNDEZ MURO would, too, play in La ley del deseo.
CONCHA GRÉGORI had played in Pepi, Luci, Bom, and continued in Entre tinieblas.
CRISTINA SÁNCHEZ PASCUAL also had played in Pepi, Luci, Bom, and acted also in Entre tinieblas.
FABIO MCNAMARA worked with Almodóvar also in Entre tinieblas, Qué he hecho yo para merecer esto?, La ley del deseo, and Atame.
ANTONIO BANDERAS, the great and talented international star, had his debut in this very film. For Almodóvar he would also make Matador, La ley del deseo, Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios, Atame, La piel que habito, and Amantes pasajeros.
BACKGROUND: "THE EMPIRE OF TIRAN"
There is a backstory in Laberinto de pasiones about a country called "Tiran", meaning, of course, Iran. In the Islamic Revolution in 1979, a couple of years before the making of this film, the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi had fled the country. Ayatollah Khomeini formed a new government and established an Islamic Republic.
Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was married three times. His second wife (1951-1958) was Soraya Esfandiary-Bakhtiari, and his third wife, Farah Diba. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi had five children, among them, Reza Pahlavi, born in 1960 by Farah Diba. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi had no children with Soraya.