Kiss of the Spider Woman

Tribute at L.A. Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, July 14

By Alejandra Espasande-Bouza
Published on LatinoLA: July 12, 2004

Kiss of the Spider Woman

"Vos sos la mujer ara?a, que atrapa a los hombres en su tela."
-- El Beso de la Mujer Ara?a by Manuel Puig.

"In the name of what God, of what ideal, do you forbid me to live according to my nature?"
-- Memoirs by Andr? Gide.

Through the magic of cinema, the 22nd edition of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Film Festival (OUTFEST) will tribute the filmic adaptation of Argentinean writer Manuel Puig's novel The Kiss of the Spider Woman.

Published in 1976, and adapted to the screen in 1985, the film revolves around the relationship of two prison inmates who share a cell in the sinister humidity of an undisclosed Latin-American country.

Valentin Arregui Paz, interpreted by the late Puerto Rican actor Raul Julia (1940-1994), is a leftist revolutionary obsessed with justice and the woman he loves. Luis Alberto Molina, played by American actor William Hurt, is a fragile homosexual who has been imprisoned for pederasty, and whose only desire is to reunite with his sick mother.

In spite of their striking differences, Molina has no problem in asserting his "feminine role" with confidence by considering himself a "normal woman," only capable of loving men. In contrast, Valentin struggles with an ideology that keeps him from accepting his devotion for an upper class woman. With time, Valentin opens up to Molina by allowing him to care for his wounds, and admitting his fear of revolutionary martyrdom by expressing his desire to have a ?normal life.?

During the night, when the lights are turned-off, Molina makes use of his repertoire to recount old film plots. His visual memory, and his attention to detail make his narratives ever more palpable for a sick and bitter Valentin. From a thriller set in a Nazi occupied Germany, to the terror of a Zombie island, or the heat of a tropical night, Molina succeeds in drawing Valentin into his fantasy world. Every film tale, every anecdote, every word, slowly penetrates the remoteness of Valentin, who eventually succumbs to the workings of Molina, the "spider woman."

In one of the most defining moments, Molina sings a Mario Clavel bolero, titled My Letter, that summons what is going to became the core of the inmates relationship:

"Querido, vuelvo otra vez a conversar contigo. La noche trae un silencio que me invita a hablarte. Y pienso, si tu tambien estar?s recordando, cari?o...los sue?os tristes de este amor extra?o."

"Dear, I come back, yet once again. The night brings an inviting silence for conversation. And I wonder... if you also remember, the sad dreams of this strange love."

Unlike the collaboration of filmmaker Barbet Schroeder and author Fernando Vallejo in the literary adaptation of Our Lady of the Assassins, or the more recent collaboration of director Eloy de la Iglesia and author Eduardo Medicutti in The Bulgarian Lovers, there never existed a collaboration
between The Kiss of the Spider Woman's director Hector Babenco and Manuel Puig.

Though the end result caused major distress upon the author, who never agreed with the changes of screenwriter Leonard Schrader, the film managed to gain an Oscar nomination for best adaptation. Another criticism of Puig fell upon the casting of William Hurt. The author did not agree with the choice, and never approved of the performance, which he considered shallow, but that gained the actor an Oscar. In spite of Puig?s disagreement, Hurt delivered a heart-wrenching final scene not to be forgotten in the history of contemporary cinema.

Could it be that there was too much of Puig in the character of Molina to let just anyone take a hold of it? Regarding the closeness of an author to a special character, French novelist Andre Guide, pioneer of "homosexual" literature, once expressed "How many buds we bear in us that will never blossom save in our books!" If Manuel Puig's passion for nostalgic boleros and classic cinema was the bud that sprang through Molina's persona, his political stand against dictatorial governments,cause of his exile, was also reflected in the persona of Valentin.

In an interview with Jorgelina Corbatta, following the 1979 Congress of Hispanic-American Writers in Medellin (Colombia), Puig was asked about the role the reader played in his literary work. His response was "Whenever I write, I'm always thinking of the reader. I write for somebody who has my
own limitations. My reader has a certain difficulty with concentrating, which in my case comes from being a film viewer. That's why I don't request any special efforts in the act of reading."

The night of Wednesday, July 14th, the L.A. audience will have the opportunity to catch the essence of one of the twentieth century greatest of imaginations. Hopefully those that see the film will be inspired to read Puig's novel, and why not, to delve into his other literary works.

Brazilian actress Sonia Braga, who gained internationally recognition for the interpretation of Valentin's beloved Marta, and Molina's seductive female lead, will be present in the event.

To consider OUTFEST a mere showcase of "gay" films is to undermine what has proven to be the venue of a great cinema. Among other films not to be missed the audience should consider three documentaries: Patricio Henriquez' Juachitan Queer Paradise, a hilarious yet touching look at the openly gay community of a rural Mexican city, Silvie Levey, Pascal Vasselin and Aranud
Hamelin's Colonel Jing Xing, the story of the first official transsexual in China (who also happenes to be a colonel in the People's Liberation Army), and Tjarda Hockstra's Pink Sunset Villa, an account of a residence for older gays and lesbians in Holland.

The 22nd edition of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Film Festival will run from July 8th to the 19th. Info: (213) 480-7065 / www.outfest.org

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