In a South American prison, Luis and Valentin are cellmates. Luis (William Hurt) is a flamboyant homosexual, incarcerated for immoral behavior who finds escape in retelling romantic tales he saw in old movies. Valentin (Raul Julia) is a restless political prisoner who believes he’s still alive only because he hasn’t given the guards any information yet. While Valentin is focused on his present situation, he is annoyed by Luis constantly off in the fantasy world of his movies, but after Valentin experiences the kindness Luis is capable of the two connect more. But there are huge twists in this web.
Hurt portrays Luis right on the thin blurry boarder of absolutely creepy and completely wonderful. Luis is the kind of homosexual completely in touch with his feminine side, so much that in frustration he admits to wishing to be female. He takes the descriptions in his movie so such great heights Valentin asks him, “Is this propaganda or porn?” When Valentin is so sick and in pain that he loses all control of his bodily functions, Luis shows only kindness and compassion. He helps Valentin clean up while never letting his tone show anything negative. That level of compassion is astounding and makes Hurt’s performance worthy of Best Actor
The movie world that Luis creates is a breath of fresh air from the gritty prison cell. The whole film world is rose colored with a foggy, airbrushed nostalgia feel. The ladies are fair, beautiful and dressed in the finest fashions, which Luis narrates in detail. The transitions from prison cell to classic movie are very well done. Often times, it cuts back into the cell, showing Luis narrating and acting or Valentin chiming in, but it never feels choppy. The flow between the settings feels natural and never jarring. And the audience needs that escape as well as Luis, rather than having the whole movie were to take place in a tiny prison cell.
I must recommend Kiss of the Spider Woman to everyone, though I understand it is not everyone’s taste in film. The themes are harsh or controversial to some, the reality of the situation is grim and depressing. But for two vastly different people to come together under these dire circumstances is wonderful and the tangent film story plays along bringing beauty to the film.
“The nicest thing about feeling happy is that you think you’ll never be unhappy again.”
I cannot agree more, a fabulous film that really blew me away when I watched it when it was originally released. Up until then, I did not know that you could confine two actors in a prison cell, have them talk and argue and cry and yet still create thrilling cinema. I had not spent much thought before on either homosexuality, political activism or cinema as an art form, but this movie got a lot of thinking going. William Hurt and Raul Julia both give career-defining performances. If I remember correctly, my only regret was that the director decided to move the action out of the prison cell at one point, where the plot loses its intensity a bit.