Directed by: Pedro Almodóvar
Starring: Eusebio Poncela, Carmen Maura, Antonio Banderas, Miguel Molina
I’ll warn you straight off: Law of Desire earns its NC-17 rating with no room for doubt. That rating may have been part of the reason why this is the movie that really pushed Almodóvar into the American consciousness, but it’s best to have some idea about what you’re getting into before undertaking the film. The rating is supposedly for “a scene of explicit sexual content,” but I’d personally call it a scene of “frank sexual content,” since it’s hardly that graphic (but it is gay sex). Otherwise, what you have here is Almodóvar in Hitchcock thriller mode. We have Eusebio Poncela as Pablo Quintero (essentially an Almodovar alter ego), an openly gay filmmaker with a transsexual sister, Tina (Carmen Maura). He also has a hopeless relationship with a young man, Juan (Miguel Molina), who can’t come to terms with being Pablo’s lover, but who also can’t come to terms with walking away from him. Then there’s a dangerously disturbed mama’s boy, Antonio (Antonio Banderas), who falls in love with Pablo and quickly becomes possessive and even more unstable. If that’s not enough, Tina is playing guardian to the daughter of her ex-girlfriend (Bibi Andersen). (In typical Almodóvar fashion, the transsexual Tina is played by a non-transsexual actress, while her non-transsexual ex is played by a transsexual actress. Well, it’s Almodóvar.) With a setup like that, it’s no surprise that things are going to get out of hand. It’s rougher and rougher-edged than later Almodovar films, but it also has an extra energy that makes it one of his best films.
In Brief: A flamboyant gay filmmaker — trying to get over a lost love — takes up with a dangerously possessive and unstable young man, who will do anything to keep his hold on the filmmaker. Pedro Almodovar’s first U.S. hit is an unabashedly personal, deeply disturbing, but sometimes very funny work that holds back no excess — which is how it got that NC-17 rating.