Beyond the intrigue of the complex story; aside from the political and moral messages that adorn the script, are two performances that elevate Kiss of the Spider Woman above the standard thriller it could so easily have become.
Two men who could not be further apart in life, both socially and idealistically, find themselves sharing a cell in a dingy South American prison. Luis Molina (William Hurt) is a homosexual, an effeminate window dresser gaoled due to alleged indiscretions with a minor. His cell-mate, Valentin Arregui (Raul Julia), is a revolutionary, entwined in a web of political scheming and destined never to be released. To pass the time, Luis tells the tale of his favourite film which is then realised on screen as a fantasy. As the tale reaches its conclusion, the men's relationship changes in ways that surprises both.
Everything in Hector Babenco's film is lifted by the performances. So intoxicating are Hurt and Julia that you are enveloped within their lives and struggles as themes of freedom, beliefs and confinement play out within the cell and across the plot of Luis' film. Friction gives way to reluctant fondness as external contrivances test their resolve. Only in the final act are the true motivations and truths revealed, and while they are revelatory, they are more interesting in signifying how the characters have changed.
There are, however, some issues that prevent Kiss of the Spider Woman being the classic it deserves to be, and in places promises to be. The supporting cast are without exception weak, something even more evident due to those leading performances. Blunt and unpolished, apart from the fantasy sequences, they serve only to draw you out of the story and sadly do not do justice to the film as a whole.
Kiss of the Spider Woman is a release that should be seen by all. Hurt and Julia have delivered career highlights under the insightful direction from Babenco's. From the first scene to the last, this is their film and if a reminder was ever needed as to the standard that should be required to win an acting Oscar, then this is it.
KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: HECTOR BABENCO / SCREENPLAY: LEONARD SCHRADER / STARRING: WILLIAM HURT, RAUL JULIA, SONIA BRAGA, JOSE LEWGOY / RELEASE DATE: JANUARY 25TH