Combustible Celluloid
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With: Pilar López de Ayala, Daniele Liotti, Manuela Arcuri, Rosana Pastor, Giuliano Gemma, Roberto Álvarez, Eloy Azorín, Guillermo Toledo, Susi Sánchez, Chema de Miguel, Andrés Lima, Cipriano Lodosa, Carolina Bona, Jorge Monje, Sol Abad
Written by: Vicente Aranda
Directed by: Vicente Aranda
MPAA Rating: R for sexuality/nudity
Language: Spanish, with English subtitles
Running Time: 118
Date: 09/24/2001

Mad Love (2001)

1 Star (out of 4)

Too Many Costumes, Not Enough 'Love'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Just for argument's sake, say you're a filmmaker. You're sitting at home looking at your empty mantle and you decide that you need a few trophies or plaques in there. What do you do?

You run down and rent some fabulous period costumes (don't forget the corsets!), maybe pick up some candles, swords, quills, etc. Find a castle or a medieval-looking battlefield on which you can shoot and hire some actors with more stage experience than film experience.

As for the script, who needs it? Just find some old public-domain book or some old true story, or better yet, crib your own version of said story. And you're set. You're off to the land of critical praise and stacks of awards -- especially awards for Costume Design.

Because that's the first thing you'll hear after seeing the latest Period Costume Epic, Mad Love -- "the costumes were just gorgeous!!!" And if the costumes are gorgeous, it must be a great movie. Right?

Wrong. Mad Love is the latest in a long line of equally dull, passionless, yawn-inducing movies (Les Destinées and the upcoming The Four Feathers among them) that don't have the heart or soul to try anything different or break the mold.

It's not too fast and not too slow. It's not too racy and it's not too offensive. It's not too much of anything.

Imported from Spain, the title Mad Love has been hammered down from the original title Juana la Loca or Joan the Mad. I guess I can't blame them for that. At least one good movie has been made with the title Mad Love, a 1935 horror flick with Peter Lorre as a mad doctor who replaces the hands of his beloved's fiancée with a murder's mitts. The new Mad Love needed something to make it sound exciting, even though isn't half as inventive as the old one.

Instead what we get is a repressed princess, Juana (Pilar López de Ayala) who is pledged to marry Philip "the Handsome," the archduke of Austria (Daniele Liotti). At first she resists, until she sees him and swoons at his Fabio-like romance-novel looks. They share a few years of hot sex, which veteran director Vicente Aranda is too timid to really sink his teeth into.

Eventually, the princess' mother dies, and she ascends the throne and becomes queen of Castille. A few kids later, the archduke gets bored and hooks up with a luscious Moorish belly dancer (Manuela Arcuri) with Satanic tendencies. He gets her a job as one of the queen's handmaidens. She also awakens his lust for power and he begins to plant seeds that his wife is bonkers so that he can take control of Castille. And with the queen's rampant, screeching jealously, it's not a hard stretch to make.

In effect, Mad Love promises to be sexy, but dries up quickly and instead gives us two shrill, aggravating characters harping at each other -- neither of which I could stand. I can't imagine which one I was supposed to root for, but I began to fantasize about a scenario in which they collided in one of the castle halls and collapsed into dust.

Based somewhat on real events, Mad Love can't even manage to do anything interesting with its built-in facts. Apparently, after the couples' marriage self-destructs, the queen is exiled in a castle for some 50 years. She never left and never loved again.

This should have been the interesting part of the story; what did Juana do up there for all those years? What was she thinking?

But Aranda can't be bothered to do anything more remarkable than showing a few seconds of old Juana at the beginning and again at the end, brooding and staring at a painting of her lost love. Indeed, by showing us Juana's fate at the beginning of the film, he kills any potential suspense the story might have generated.

However, despite its crushing monotony, Mad Love sure does have some beautiful costumes.

Best Buy Co, Inc.