Kiss of the Spider Woman is a captivating film with amazing performances, and a landmark in the independent film community.
William Hurt and Raul Julia portray two prison inmates – the flamboyant homosexual, Luis Molina, and political prisoner, Valentin Arregui. Luis has been imprisoned for having sex with an underage boy, while Valentin has been incarcerated for his involvement with a revolutionary group. Fundamentally, the two men are entirely different in their worldviews; however, as time moves on, the walls of prejudice begin to gradually break down.
Molina is a cineaste, who survives the harsh reality of prison life by recalling his favorite scenes from a film that he adores – a romantic war film, that just so happens to be a piece of Nazi propaganda. This love of film plays a pivotal role in the friendship between the two men, as it provides a kind of escape from the prison walls. Valentin comes to rely on Molina’s vivid memories of the film in times of despair, and it is in this way that the two form an inseparable bond. The performances in this film are of the highest caliber. William Hurt won an Oscar for his portrayal of the sensitive, tender-hearted Luis Molina, and Raul Julia matches him as Valentin Arregui. The two actors committed wholeheartedly to this film. It would have been easy for William Hurt to turn Molina into a one-dimensional caricature, but he refuses, allowing us to peer inside of this character’s vulnerable soul. Raul Julia turns in one of the best performances of his career as Valentin, as he moves from deep-seeded place of pure hatred and disgust to one of mercy and grace. The film was directed by Hector Babenco, who shows much restraint and prowess as a filmmaker, with as little pretense as possible. The look of the film is appropriately raw and gritty, and the confines of the low budget add considerably to this.
Kiss of the Spider Woman is a tribute to the wonder of the cinema, how it transforms us, how it defines us. It is one of the greatest cinematic offerings of the eighties – a rare gem of a film, one that will never be forgotten.
The Blu-ray release from City Lights Home Entertainment features a full-length documentary, entitled ‘Tangled Web: The Making of Kiss of the Spider Woman’, which goes into much detail regarding the many challenges that came with bringing the film to the screen. There is also a trivia track, a slide-show commentary, and a theatrical trailer. The film looks as good as it ever has, but this is far from a reference quality presentation. Kiss of the Spider Woman comes with a lossy 5.1 Dolby audio track. This is a very dialogue heavy film, and the dialogue comes through loud and clear.