Labyrinth of Passion Review
One of the most important moments in modern times was the 1979 revolution in Iran where the corrupt Shah was overthrown by a coalition of clerics, fundamentalists and Marxists. For any film maker, it makes an excellent backdrop for a film about the world that we live in now with the christian west in fear of the islamic middle-east. For a young Pedro Almodovar though it was simply another interesting ingredient in the pop cocktail that is Labyrinth of Passion. Where later Almodovar films concentrate more on broader humanist themes like femininity, companionship and the oppression of the past, his early films take a puckish delight in celebrating people for their flaws and perversions. Avoiding a mature authorial tone, early Almodovar deals with taboo and the impossibility of the respectable. One moment sums up this approach in the film on review here when a receptionist, having taken her prescribed laxative for flatulence, is constantly interrupted in her short walk to the smallest room. The result is a graphic and involuntary dump as the punchline. In early Almodovar, it is the punchline that matters more than the joke or story and some times this is cheeringly straightforward and, at other times, it is gross.
We find ourselves in Spain in the company of Emperor of Tiran's Son, Riza, as he labours under disguises whilst he works his way through the cruising population of Madrid. After making a pick up on the street he discovers that Sadec, his lover for the afternoon, also comes from Tiran and so he makes a swift exit and decides to change his image again. His new look wins the respect of a pop band and he finds himself singing as their frontman and meeting nymphomaniac pop chanteuse, Sexilia. Sexilia has always overindulged with men and has a fear of the sun but she falls for Riza, and he falls for her. However, with turns of events that would shame Shakespeare at his most florrid the path of true love becomes rough thanks to Islamic Terrorists, a newly fertile stepmother, a frigid gynaecologist and a mad psychologist.
Almodovar's third feature film is a shameless sex comedy which enjoys turning everything that the world would like to believe on its head. A nymphomaniac gives up sex for fidelity, a promiscuous gay man settles down with his female love, an obsessive fan gets made over as her pop star hero, a psychologist is a raving loon and a gynaecologist studies reproduction in order to remove the need for sexual intercourse. You couldn't read this as a coherent political statement or critique, but as a satire on everything. The taste of some of this satire is questionable - the daughter who fights off her father's viagra, or the 80's equivalent, fuelled sexual assaults on her person by using downers to his uppers, and the frigid scientist who finds love in the person of his daughter's double. But this irreverence is the point as Almodovar sets out to debunk anything which could be seen as a social more in order to enjoy the human comedy of the myriad of characters here running after their desires.
Labyrinth of Passion is definitely one of the sillier of early Almodovar films and it is probably one of the most lost in its particular time with the Iranian backdrop and the fashions of the new wave so key to its setting. All these factors are rendered unimportant as the world runs around, falls over and runs some more after its heart's desire. So gynaecologists are frigid, Empresses are obsessed with having children, terrorist are incompetent and the only sane people are the musicians and the nymphos. Almodovar wouldn't dare do something so simplistic these days but that is the cinema's loss as Labyrinth of Passion is great fun in the way that fine outthere films can be. Like the work of Russ Meyer, John Waters and many others, Almodovar's early films have a quality of principled disposibility that says enjoy the here and now and stop thinking so hard. It ain't deep but Labyrinth of Passion is certainly whimsical and entertaining with a rough edge to the film making that makes it an important document when considered with the much greater craft of Almodovar's films now. Witty, silly and full of itself.
Tartan UK's release of Labyrinth of Passion is the first English friendly release of this film on DVD and they present the film at about 1.72:1 which is close to the original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 on a dual layer disc. The stills in this review will give you a pretty good impression of the visual quality on offer here from what was clearly not the greatest print in the world with marks, hairs and damage throughout. Colours are very faded and have been boosted a little with the concomitant effect of increasing the graininess, the edges of the image have been enhanced significantly and the handling of the contrast lacks an appropriate scheme of grading with all blacks being too dark and lacking shade. Without an alternative presentation it is difficult to conclude whether these materials could have been handled better but buyers should not expect this to look wonderful because it doesn't. The audio is similarly battered with some distortion and a lack of clarity and definition in the sound, the English subs are optional and well compiled.
An early work but an entertaining one. For some, Almodovar has become too polished in his direction and they miss the nonsense of films like this one or Kika. This is a DVD debut for an English audience and that is worth a whoop even if the visual quality and lack of extras are disappointing.