1985 / Best Actor / Best Director / Best Picture

Film #318: Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985)

As I mentioned in the last post, William Hurt won a Best Actor Oscar quite early into his career. The film he won the Oscar for was Kiss of the Spider Woman which saw him play a character that was as far away from The Big Chill’s Nick as you could possibly get.

In the film Hurt plays gay window dresser Luis Molina who is currently serving a term in a Brazilian prison for having sex with an underage boy. Molina is sharing a cell with Valentin Arregui, a political prisoner who has been tortured due to his role in a radical left-wing group. The two men are definitely mismatched and Molina is being bribed with release by trying to get information from Valentin. But a bond develops between the two men over their time locked in together and the unlikely pair become incredibly close. What sets Kiss of the Spider Woman apart is that Molina often narrates part of his favourite film to Valentin to distract them both from the horrors outside of their cell. The fact that Molina’s film is a Nazi propaganda movie doesn’t seem to faze him primarily because he loves the love story. Life begins to imitate art when Molina is granted parole and has to decide whether to follow his head or his heart. The film’s conclusion is fairly tragic in one respect, but in another it does provide closure for both Molina and Valentin.

Having watched a few prison films already for this blog I thought I knew what to expect, but Kiss of the Spider Woman was something completely different. For the most part it wasn’t a film about a prison, but about two men drawn together due to similar circumstances. This odd couple dynamic is brilliant to watch and is well-played by both Hurt and Raul Julia. I personally feel that Hurt thoroughly deserved his Best Actor Oscar, as he played completely against type here. Hurt’s portrayal of Molina was flawless as you felt every single emotion that he felt. His passion for narrating his film and for keeping himself near to Valentin for as long as possible was also brilliantly portrayed. Raul Julia, who will always be Gomez Addams to me, had the harder job as political prisoner Valentin. However, I thought he presented a balanced character who was incredibly angry but also had a caring side. Julia and Hurt together on screen were just gold and their scenes together really made the film what it was. That’s why I struggled to enjoy the film as much when Molina left his cell and returned to the streets of Brazil. The final twenty or so minutes of Kiss of the Spider Woman felt incredibly generic and almost spoilt what had come before. Another great part of Hector Babenco’s film was his incorporation of propaganda film ‘Her Real Glory’. These scenes are highly stylised and Babenco really tries hard to capture the essence of what made these films so powerful. They are perfectly balanced with the scenes set in the harsh confines of the cell and really add another dimension to what could’ve been a bog standard prison movie. Ultimately, Kiss of the Spider Woman was at its best when it focused on a story about two men brought together by circumstance and the relationship that developed between them.


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