Hector Babenco’s 1985 movie addresses the themes of persecution for political and sexual preference together with the more uplifting human capacity to find friendship and solace even among opposites. In a prison somewhere in 1970s dictatorial Brazil, two men, the first a continually tortured political dissident, Valentine Arregui (Raul Julia), a man’s man fighting the good fight, the other, sentenced for homosexuality and having sex with an underage man, Luis Molina (William Hurt - won the Oscar that year from his first of a hat trick of nominations). Molina drags Arregui to an escape from the monotony of prison life by recounting the pseudo-imaginary world of an old propaganda movie of the 1940’s intertwined with his own memories. These scenes, depicted in glossy film noir, draw surreal parallels to their harsh reality, telling a story within a story.
In Molina’s movie, the main protagonist, played by Sonia Braga, is a French singer, falling for a Nazi officer, torn between loyalty to her country and love. Braga appears in different roles, as Marta, Arregui’s bourgeoisie girlfriend, and as the eponymous spider woman - her characters link the prisoners’ stories. Arregui asks Molina with whom he identifies in the film, Molina answers - “the leading lady, of course” revealing his aspiration for beauty and metamorphosis into the skin which would make him feel comfortable in society, as he falls inexorably in love with Arregui. Molina’s remembered relationship with Marta, someone outside his socialist ideal, displays his attraction to forbidden fruit, which culminates in his prison life in a physical relationship with Molina.
The naturally theatrical feel of the movie, an adaptation of Manuel Puig’s 1976 book, provides the backdrop to tell a story of love and friendship overcoming sexual boundaries in the face of suffering and persecution. Although the movie ends in ultimate tragedy, allegorically linking the real kiss between Arregui and Molina with the deadly kiss from the luscious lips of the spider woman, one is left with the hope that the very real respect and love that was found in the dank prison cell gives us hope that humanity can overcome prejudice, intolerance and social injustice. And Donald Trump.
Henny McClymont aka Ginger Henny is a Southern California based film fan who asks 'why fit in when you were born to stand out?'
Follow her—I do—on twitter at @gingerhenny and on Instagram at GingerHenny. Thanks, Henny.
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