The Lusty Lady

Love-struck monarch sparks period romance.

MAD LOVE

written and directed by Vicente Aranda

with Pilar L� de Ayala and Daniel Liotti

opens Sept. 6 at Harvard Exit

If you ever had any doubts that the Spanish are passionate, Vicente Aranda's 24th feature will put them to rest. By his account, 16th-century Queen Joan of Castile, known as "Joan the Mad" for her obsessive devotion to her husband, was just a woman unbalanced by her overwhelming love. Comparing the 75-year-old Aranda's latest work with that of his younger counterparts like Julio Medem (Sex and Luc???/I>) and Pedro Almod�, one sees how their ardor is part of a long lineage in Spanish cinema.

When the adolescent princess Joan (Pilar L� de Ayala) is sent to Brussels to marry the heir to the Holy Roman Empire, she is advised by her mother, Queen Isabella (the same who commissioned the Columbus expedition), that she should "answer as I do, that you married him for love." This turns out to be easy, since Philip (Daniel Liotti) looks like Fabio, and the two immediately excuse themselves for a royal hump. Like many Catholic girls, Joan discovers sex and that she likes it—a lot.

Over the years, Joan's demands for her husband's attention never wane. She has her maids color her nipples with henna to "drive him wild with desire." She refuses to give her child up to a nursemaid because its suckling stimulates her. Philip, however, quickly bores of his wife and spurs her jealousy with his affairs. (One mistress bewitches him and dangerously gains appointment as Joan's handmaiden.)

Once Joan inherits the crown of Castile, Philip 's court partisans try to have her declared insane in order to transfer her title to him. In Aranda's telling, this was a purely political move, exploiting Joan's sexual obsession to gain power. She was never crazy, he tells us, just crazy for her husband.

This interpretation originated in the Romantic enthusiasm of the 19th century, later becoming a nationalist allegory during the Franco years that was realized in the 1948 film Locura de Amor (Love Crazy). It's hogwash, most likely; Joan actually slept alongside her husband's corpse and was later deposed by her son, Charles V.

Despite its modern candor and historical detail, Aranda's version never becomes more than a torrid bodice-ripper. Yet Mad Love signifies a trend that, unlike other waves in European cinema, runs hot instead of cold. Violence fascinated Godard and Leone. For Fellini, sex seemed detached even if it was free. But passion? For that, as always, seek a Spaniard.

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