Almodóvar Retrospective #2 – Labyrinth Of Passion

To mark the release of Pedro Almodóvar’s eighteenth feature film The Skin I Live In on August 26, I’ll be watching and reviewing one of his films per week in the hope of examining the acclaimed Spanish filmmakers extraordinary vision and knack for storytelling through his resonant filmography.

This week: Labyrinth Of Passion

Labyrinth Of Passion was Almodóvar’s second feature feature-length film, and it saw both a marked technical and visceral improvement on Pepi, Luci, Bom And Other Girls Like Mom. The film is about four central characters:  Sexilia (Cecilia Roth), a nymphomaniac; Sadec (Antonio Banderas), a gay Islamic terrorist; Riza Niro (Imanol Arias), the son of the emperor of Tiran; and Queti (Marta Fernández Muro), the daughter of a dry-cleaner. When Riza Niro discovers that Sadec and his colleagues are after him, he disguises himself as a punk rocker, and falls in love with the stunning Sexilia, his first straight relationship. Meanwhile Queti, Sexilia’s “biggest fan”, helps Sexilia come to terms with her new life-style.

As you would expect from such an array of gender confused characters, they spend a fair amount of the running time stoned or indulging in a multitude of other carnalities, but, to the films merit, everyone slots neatly into their clearly defined roles with an unsettling yet nonchalant ease. From the beginning, Labyrinth Of Passion is fast-paced, camp, brazen, trashy, frivolous, and flippant. In simple terms, it does exactly what it says on the tin, and has a lot of fun in the process.

As expected, the film has a unmitigated look, filled with outlandish costumes, a gallery of psychedelic colours, and ridiculously excessive hairdos that stand out against the drab city backdrop. Despite this, Almodóvar directs with a notably naturalistic eye which lends the proceedings an almost plausible air, making the weird and wacky characters seem very much as ease with their absurd lives and Madrid’s unorthodox aura.

While there’s no specifically brilliant performances on display and, with a cast of larger than life characters, it’s difficult to emote with anyone in particular. Each cast member delivers an enthusiastic turn, adding a certain personal touch to the ensuing mayhem. Banderas (who becomes a frequent collaborator with Almódovar in later films) has a small, yet alluringly arousing role as an Islamic terrorist who uses his sense of smell to track down and kidnap the emperor’s son, while Almodóvar himself makes an inspired cameo appearance as a leather clad transvestite pop singer, wonderfully blurring the line between artist and art.

Labyrinth Of Passion supplies a very early glimpse of Almodóvar’s talents and the themes which he re-addresses in greater depth in his later films, though arguably with less spirit and boyishness enthusiasm than is on display here. It may be, at times, a messy, chaotic and unfocused mind fuck, but it’s certainly one that demands attention as a piece of wild cult cinema from a burgeoning director discovering his voice.

Next week: Dark Habits

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