Thursday, December 15, 2011

Kiss of the Spider Woman review

Kiss of the Spider Woman primarily takes place in a jail cell in what looks like a Brazilian town. But it also oscillates between this location and fantasy sequences that are narrated by Luis, a gay man who is in prison because of “sex offenses.” He tells these stories to a one-man audience – Valentin, who is a stoic political prisoner involved in some resistance movement against the government. Nevertheless, the stories are for his own benefit. When Valentin complains about the ongoing narration of one of Luis’ favorite movies – a Nazi propaganda film from the 1940s – Luis replies that he will continue to escape the jail cell however he can, unless someone brings the keys to allow him to physically abandon his condition. Luis’ escapism becomes a central theme of the movie, and one of the main reasons that Valentin has to despise his cellmate. As more details about the movie reveal themselves, however, Luis’ escapism manifests itself as something more complicated than what is originally perceived. It is an escapism that originally comments on his desire for survival, and later demonstrates his commitment to a political cause.
Initially, the plot of the (Nazi) film within the film does not seem to be significant to Luis. He is simply interested in the romantic element of the film, where a French woman falls in love with one of the head officials of the Nazi occupation there. This insistence on his mental survival is important for him. Valentin acknowledges that out in the world, Luis is at risk from persecution and discrimination. While he does not get physically tortured and beaten as Valentin is for his political beliefs, Luis is nevertheless just another marginalized person that will continue to be enmeshed in the political oppression of his native country. Thus, as the film develops, the stark contrast between Luis – the escapist – and Valentin – the political agent – is muddled. The plot of the film within the film comes to comment on the film itself, because Luis becomes the political agent and emulates the protagonist female lead in the Nazi film, in that he acts as a spy, but unlike her, he actually serves a noble cause and does not end up betraying it. It is interesting to see how the queer figure in each film plays into this escapist stereotype, as if his/her political involvement were only secondary to his need for mental survival in a discriminatory atmosphere. Nevertheless, Kiss of the Spider Woman definitely redeems itself by blurring these stereotypes. Even Valentin is transformed. He is originally an emblem of resistance to the government, but is nevertheless representative of the rigid heteropatriarchy that comes along with his nationalism. By the end of the movie, however, Luis is the one that questions and softens this rigidity.

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